Doctors at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital Go on Strike

The hospital needs urgent financial restructuring, but the doctors and management couldn't agree on the degree to which the doctors should take the hit.

Hadassah University Hospital’s doctors launched an open-ended strike Tuesday after talks broke down over a recovery plan that the physicians fear could harm their working conditions and force many to leave.

The hospital, which has two branches in Jerusalem, has a deficit of about 1.3 billion shekels ($369 million), and this month staff will only be paid half their normal salaries. The doctors fear that the Finance Ministry, in an effort to improve the hospital’s finances, will have a court file a stay of proceedings against creditors, with a lawyer appointed trustee.

Such an action would give the state much greater power to address the hospital’s debt. The hospital is sponsored by the U.S.-based Hadassah women’s Zionist organization, which has financial problems of its own, in part due to losses during the Bernard Madoff scandal.

“Hadassah has been a national asset for more than 100 years. Unfortunately, after more than a year of negotiations, we’ve found that the state has been stabbing us in the back. The government is heading for a stay of proceedings and expects the doctors to bear the burden of the crisis,” said the chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Leonid Eidelman.

“And that’s after they already agreed to bear a portion of the burden. It’s not the doctors’ fault or responsibility, and this catastrophe can’t be placed on the doctors’ shoulders. The prime minister needs to wake up and provide a solution.”

During the strike, the hospital will operate on a Shabbat and holiday footing. Emergency-room care and other urgent services including dialysis, childbirth, premature-infant care and oncology will operate normally.

In general, already-scheduled surgery, including after-hours private surgery, will not go ahead. An exceptions committee will consider individual cases involving extenuating circumstances, including fertility treatments. Teaching will be halted until further notice.

If the strike drags on, the state is expected to seek a back-to-work order. Sources have told TheMarker that in such an event, the doctors would not rule out steps similar to those taken by medical residents in 2011, when many residents submitted letters of resignation.

Prof. Dror Mevorach, who chairs the hospital’s committee of department heads, said Hadassah Director General Avigdor Kaplan told him that treasury officials had not been persuaded to refrain from court action. Mevorah said the stay of proceedings would make things easier for management but seriously harm doctors’ working conditions.

Several days ago, Kaplan announced that an agreement with the doctors on a recovery plan was near. In the interim, staff would only receive half their usual pay. The government, meanwhile, was not transferring funds to the hospital and there was insufficient cash to meet payroll costs.

“We were just about to seal an agreement in which the doctors would provide more than 250 million shekels to the hospital over three to four years, but the Finance Ministry people decided they wanted more than what we agreed on with the director general,” Mevorach said.

Regarding the doctors’ salaries, a sticking point was whether a 4.5% wage reduction for three to four years would wind up an outright salary cut.

The strike began at 10 A.M. Tuesday with an explanatory meeting. “We have reached a point we had not dreamed of: a fight for our existence,” Sagit Arbel Alon, who chairs Hadassah’s senior physicians’ committee, told the gathering.

At the meeting, Eidelman demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervene. “Bibi, wake up,” Eidelman said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. He said the matter should not be relegated to Finance Ministry bureaucrats.

The state would be expected to inject about 650 million shekels as part of a recovery plan, though it’s not clear how much of that would be in the form of a loan and how much a grant.

On Tuesday, a representative of the hospital’s administrative and support staff, Amnon Bruchian, accused Kaplan of treating employees as the enemy and taking unilateral steps, including layoffs, without consulting staff. Bruchian also accused the hospital of adopting a “divide and conquer” strategy, pitting administrative staff against doctors and nurses.

“That’s instead of treating us as partners every step of the way for the sake of the hospital’s future,” Bruchian said. He said the administrative staff remained willing to play a part in a recovery plan, though Kaplan must produce financial data including the extent of necessary cuts.

Oliver Fittousi