Israeli Medical Workers to Start Sanctions Over Labor Dispute

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, February 2021.
Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, February 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Starting Tuesday, 1,500 medical technologists, including 150 operators of ventilators and ECMO heart-lung machines, will only work until 3 P.M. and will not be available at night.

These steps are part of their fight for better employment conditions and a continuation of the labor dispute that was declared in 2019. The measures will primarily affect hospitals outside central Israel, where the technologists say they are not receiving the pay due them for night and on-call shifts.

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Representatives from the Histadrut labor federation are in talks with Finance Ministry officials in an effort to resolve the crisis.

The technologists are an integral part of the hospital system and operate a wide variety of medical equipment, including ventilators, ECMO machines, anesthesia equipment and ultrasound and other imaging machines.

The technologists will now work on “Shabbat mode,” meaning they will only handle urgent issues with the medical machinery and not do imaging tests.

Shlomi Marom, chairman of the medical technologists’ division in the Histadrut, says “The matter of technologists being on call is not standardized. In many hospitals, we have to be available around the clock, but we are not compensated accordingly.”

He adds that technologists are employed until 3 P.M. like other medical support professionals, but then required to be available to deal with potentially life-threatening technical problems, even though they are not compensated for this or for the requirement to be available on call. Accordingly, the nursing and medical staff will operate the medical equipment in these hours without the technical aid of the technologists.

“In the big, wealthier hospitals, mainly in the center of the country, the technologists’ employment is regulated, but not in the smaller, more outlying hospitals,” Marom says.

“Hospitals in the periphery decided to pay technologists only for their work during the day. The state decided they don’t need to be paid at night, even when there are urgent heart surgeries or patients being hooked up to ECMO machines then. Issues can arise that can mean the patient will die if a technician is not available, if there is no one to bring the right type of gas canister to aid with respiration, or a ventilator or to give the doctors needed professional support.”

Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Public hospitals refuse COVID patients

Meanwhile, Israel’s seven public hospitals – Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah Medical Center, which operates two hospitals in the capital; Laniado Hospital in Netanya; Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak and, in Nazareth, the English Hospital, the Holy Family Hospital (also called the Italian Hospital) and the French Hospital of Saint Vincent De Paul – announced Sunday that they would stop admitting COVID-19 patients.

They said they have not received promised funds from the Finance Ministry.

Unlike the government hospitals and hospitals owned by Clalit Health Services, the seven public hospitals are owned by foundations or nonprofit institutions. Like the other hospitals, their revenue comes from providing medical services and hospitalization for people insured by Israel’s health funds, but their status in terms of state funding is different. The hospital directors have long protested that their budgets should be made comparable to the government and Clalit hospitals.

On Monday morning, the Jerusalem hospitals Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem and Shaare Zedek instructed Magen David Adom not to bring them COVID-19 patients and told the Health Ministry they would not admit new COVID-19 patients. In response, the Health Ministry made plans to increase the capabilities of the country’s four health care providers in and around the capital, in order to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations as much as possible. Between 10 and 20 people who live in Jerusalem were taken to hospitals in central Israel. The ministry says Jerusalem is not currently a coronavirus hotspot.

Officials say the diversion of coronavirus patients from Jerusalem is adding to the load on hospitals in the center, adding that they hope the matter will be resolved with the Finance Ministry soon.

Also on Monday, Finance Ministry Director General Ram Belinkov and Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash met with senior professionals in their ministries to find ways to accelerate the transfer of approved funding to the hospitals. “I have the utmost appreciation for the holy work being done in the hospitals in Israel, especially during this challenging time. I expect that the public hospitals will continue to provide services to the Israeli public at this difficult time in light of our commitment to uphold the agreement with them in full,” Belinkov said.

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