The Health Ministry has appointed an adviser to the director general on mental health-related matters, despite his lack of experience in the field and without having him go through an application process for the post.
Yigal Slovik's background is mainly military, and is unrelated to mental health or health care system management – he commanded Israel's Armored Corps and the Manpower Division in the Ground Forces.
The responsibilities of Slovik's new post include a number of high-level tasks pertaining to Israel's health care system, like managing cooperation with the heads of the state's hospitals and rehabilitation programs, as well as advancing the process of transferring patients out of hospitals and into community rehabilitation programs. According to a response from the Health Ministry, the job does not require experience in mental health-related fields.
He is set to serve for a six-month period starting in August, which will include a number of vacation days due to the High Holy Days that fall during that time. Slovik will receive a salary of 350,000 shekels ($107,500), which is based on an hourly wage of 315 shekels ($96) and travel expenses of 25,000 shekels ($7,645).
The ministry did not take applications for the post. According to the minutes of the Health Ministry exemptions committee the director general, Nachman Ash, considered four candidates for the adviser’s job. Officials “held discussions with the candidates, examined their professional background and its relevance for the post under offer and held consultations at the highest level,” the protocols said. It did not name the other three candidates, and the Health Ministry declined a request from Haaretz to identify them, citing privacy issues.
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At the end of the process, the minutes said, “it was decided that the most suitable candidate is Yigal Slovik due to his considerable experience and the special trust the position requires.” The minutes did not identify the other candidates or who was consulted, nor did it explain the nature of the “special trust” the job demands.
In 2021, Slovik was appointed Education Ministry director general by Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton. According to sources in the ministry, the two figures quarreled over administering the coronavirus vaccine in schools, a move Slovik supported and Shasha-Biton opposed. He was fired from his post about six months later amid that friction, but the minister asserted at the time that "the coronavirus and the dismissal are unrelated."
Shasha-Biton claimed that Slovik had been fired because he had failed to meet targets she had set for the education system. “His behavior proves that he is not worthy of being a trusted person,” she said shortly after dismissing him.
The Health Ministry denied that personal connections played a role in Slovik's appointment. “Neither the director general nor the health minister has any personal connection with Mr. Slovik and any insinuation that the choice was made on the basis of personal acquaintance is unfounded,” the ministry said.
Although Slovik's only previous government post lasted six months, the Health Ministry cited “his significant experience in managing complicated undertakings,” “his years of management experience” and “his deep knowledge of the public sector and the government in particular."
The ministry also noted the health care system know-how Slovik gained while he served as the coronavirus point man on the National Security Council; he held that job until the end of 2020, less than a year after the onset of the pandemic.
It added that the process of putting together programs to advance mental health care "requires someone to manage it who will take care to enact the reforms in a realistic timeframe," and demands proven management skills. "Any claim that a deep understanding of mental health is required to effectively and professionally carry out the undertaking is incorrect and does not reflect the requirements.
"Regarding this matter, Slovik will get complete professional assistance to carry out the work efficiently from the mental health service unit, which is headed by Dr. Tal Bergman Levy. The ministry’s director general has instructed that the professional aspects required to carry out the project will remain in the hands of the unit.
“The procedure by which Slovik was chosen had been managed in accordance with all the requirements of the Health Ministry applications committee,” it said.