The opening of a regional medical center in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona that was initially scheduled for this month has been delayed by at least two months. The Kiryat Shmona municipality did not respond to an enquiry from Haaretz about the reason for the delay, but the Finance Ministry said that the funding for the new facility has not yet come up for consideration by the Knesset Finance Committee.
Kiryat Shmona Deputy Mayor Eli Zafrani said this week that the medical center is now scheduled to open on October 16, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman in attendance. In May, mayors from northern communities, including Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka, announced that the medical center would open within three months from then. According to the Finance Ministry, the cabinet passed a resolution on the matter in April and a funding request was submitted to the Knesset Finance Committee, which is to take it up in September. If the budget is approved, it will be allocated via the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry.
Deputy Mayor Zafrani said the facility will be opened in a building that previously housed a freestanding emergency room that operated in the city and closed about five years ago. The emergency room, which functioned for 30 years, was associated with the Ziv Medical Center in Safed. After it closed, Kiryat Shmona was only left with a Magen David Adom emergency facility that provides limited medical services, requiring area residents to travel about 45 minutes to the south to Ziv Medical Center for other services. That prompted a political and public battle in an effort to upgrade medical services for the region’s residents.
The initial announcement from the region's mayors said the new center would provide more extensive medical services than what the emergency room that closed offered. Kiryat Shmona Mayor Malka said at the time that the new center would be equipped with CAT scan and MRI equipment for which donors had been lined up. The center, he said, would be funded in accordance with the cabinet resolution in addition to money from eastern Galilee local governments.
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An opposition member of Kiryat Shmona city council, Avihai Stern, who was among a group that organized demonstrations demanding that the center be opened, and who cast doubt in May that it would be opened on time, told Haaretz that he held city hall responsible for the delay for the most part. That residents were not informed as to when the center would open showed a lack of respect for them, Stern claimed. “Even then they promised that the center would operate 24/7, something that was never approved by the Health Ministry," he added.
Referring to the Bikur Rofeh for-profit medical service firm that is to operate the new facility, Stern alleged that no agreement has yet been signed with the company. "Ninety days have passed and there isn’t even a site. All that is the responsibility of the municipality alone, not the Health Ministry and not the Israeli government,” he said.
In recent years, Galilee residents have frequently staged demonstrations to protest the lack of medical services. The new center is to include a medical director who will specialize in pediatrics, another doctor and a nurse. It will provide X-ray services, urine and blood tests and set simple casts. It will also treat soldiers doing their compulsory military service, subject to approval from the health and defense ministries.
In its response for this article, the Kiryat Shmona municipality stated: “The regional medical center in Kiryat Shmona will open this October in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At present, Bikur Rofeh, which was the successful bidder, is working on setting up the medical center. Until the center opens, Magen David Adom will continue to provide emergency services to the residents of Kiryat Shmona, the Galilee, the Golan [Heights] and to the many tourists who visit the area throughout the year, particularly at this time of year.”