Israeli Minister Threatens to Stop Treating Wounded Syrians

The government must transfer funds to cover deficit caused by accepting over 2,000 victims of civil war, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman says.

Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder
An Israeli nurse treats a severely wounded Syrian man at the Western Galilee Hospital in the northern city of Nahariya September 10, 2013.
An Israeli nurse treats a severely wounded Syrian man at the Western Galilee Hospital in the northern city of Nahariya September 10, 2013.Credit: Reuters
Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder

If the government doesn’t transfer funds to northern hospitals to pay for the treatment of wounded Syrians by next Sunday, the Health Ministry will order the hospitals to stop accepting Syrian patients unless they are in immediate danger of dying, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman threatened Sunday.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Israel has treated more than 2,000 wounded Syrians, including over 1,500 at Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya and about 900 at Ziv Medical Center in Safed. The patients include both combatants and civilians, among them women and children.

In a letter to Ehud Prawer, deputy director general for governance and social affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office, Litzman noted that treating the Syrians, many of whom suffer from serious and complex wounds, “consumes significant resources at the hospitals – operating rooms, manpower, medical devices and equipment."

"Even though the state has repeatedly declared that no one questions the need to indemnify the hospitals for this treatment, until now they have unfortunately received only partial payment," he said. “Although we understand the humanitarian importance of treating the Syrians, we can no long bear the significant financial burden of treating them,” the letter added, speaking in the hospitals’ name.

Both Western Galilee and Ziv hospitals are suffering, but the former’s problems are the most severe, since it receives the most Syrian patients. During two discussions by the Knesset Finance Committee earlier this month, lawmakers learned that Western Galilee had run up a deficit of tens of millions of shekels due to the gap between the cost of treating the Syrians – more than 10,000 shekels ($2,700) per day – and the payment it receives from the state, which is only 1,300 shekels per day.

The costs are supposed to be split among the health, finance and defense ministries, but in practice, the money hasn’t reached the hospitals.

Over the last four years, the hospitals say, they have spent about 300 million shekels to treat wounded Syrians – reflecting the costs of almost 30,000 days of hospitalization – but have received only 54 million shekels from the state.

“The problem goes beyond the 25-million-shekel deficit we’ve run up,” Dr. Masad Barhoum, director of Western Galilee Hospital, told the Knesset Finance Committee. “We admitted these wounded people because they are human beings. This is the beautiful face of Israel overseas. Today, my hospital is the most experienced in treating war injuries, after four years in which almost every morning an ambulance arrives and all the medical crews enter the emergency room to treat them. We have about 40 wounded people every day. We’ve amassed enormous experience; we have a patient for whom they’re building a face using a 3-D printer.”

But the price, he said, is being paid by Israeli residents of the north who use the hospital, because its deficit has meant it cannot buy new technology or renovate buildings. “With a deficit of 25 million [shekels], I can’t hire new people or develop the hospital for the benefit of the residents,” Barhoum said.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said the issue “is under discussion in the PMO, which is acting to forge agreements on allocations among the ministries so that the policy of treating injured Syrians can continue as usual. Within the next few day the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office will finalize an arrangement on the issue that will be binding on all parties.”

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