Hadassah Nurses and Administrative Staff Step Up Sanctions

Union leaders instruct staff to work on an emergency-staffing basis until 'nurses get their full salary.'

Some 5,000 nurses and administrative staff vowed to step up their labor action against Hadassah University Hospital as of Wednesday as union leaders instructed them to work on an emergency-staffing basis, reducing the number of personnel on hand at the hospital from their already low levels of recent days.

The decision to intensify the sanctions came Tuesday evening after nurses and other staff met with Avi Nissenkorn, the head of the Histadrut Labor Organization’s trade union division, and legal adviser Naomi Landau.

“As soon as nurses get their full salary, we’ll begin negotiations with administration on every relevant subject. The administration cannot unilaterally take action against the nurses without any dialogue with nurses’ representatives, or Histadrut officials,” said Ilana Cohen, head of the nurses’ union.

She asserted that Tuesday's decision by the Jerusalem District Court granting the financially troubled medical center protection from creditors does not mean that the hospital can continue to pay its employees only part of their wages.

Hadassah staff, including doctors, have been engaged in labor actions over the past week to protest receiving only half their January salaries.

But Cohen said departments providing critical care, including the oncology, maternity and intensive care wards, will continue to function normally. Outpatient clinics, however, will be closed, and non-essential surgical procures cancelled. Also, an exceptions committee has been created, which will make decision on urgent care requests.

The strike came as details of financial mismanagement at the medical center -- a world renowned institution with 1,000 beds, a medical school and a global network of fundraisers -- emerged as Judge David Mintz court heard Hadassah’s petition for the so-called stay of proceedings order, protecting it from creditors.

Although he approved the hospital’s petition, Mintz noted that some of the ways Hadassah management had found to fund its burgeoning deficit were very problematic, and may have bordered on the criminal. However, he accepted the hospital’s argument that bankruptcy court was the best place to hear the matter, not the labor courts, as unions fighting the order had proposed.

The judge gave the trustees five days to present their defense against insured creditors and come up with a plan to solve the issue of the doctors’ malpractice insurance and continue the risk coverage of the workers ensured in the pension funds. “What has been will not continue,” Mintz wrote in his ruling. “We cannot accept that Hadassah has been financed by tricks and by improvising.”

Doctors only recently discovered that Hadassah’s administration had in recent years used no less than 100 million shekels ($28.5 million) of funds earmarked for medical research to cover overhead costs. The money was collected from private medical services (Sharap) provided by the doctors.

According to Leah Wapner, secretary general of the Israel Medical Association, the administration concealed what it was doing “because every time a doctor wanted to take money from the fund to travel abroad, for example, they simply transferred the money to him. They rolled it from one [doctor] to the other.”

The IMA estimated that the money taken from funds intended for research amounted to another approximately 45 million shekels.

A representative of the Income Tax Authority told the court on Monday that Hadassah had kept some 70 million shekels that it had deducted from the doctors’ salaries as a payroll tax. The authority said this was done by arrangement with the government as a kind of alternative to official assistance to Hadassah last year.

The doctors also claimed that after Hadassah changed the insurance company that covers the doctors from Clal to Harel last June, they were concerned that their malpractice premiums had not been fully paid. A Harel representative at the hearing said that the policy was “in breach for about two months.” Mintz responded harshly to Hadassah’s request for government funding. “The claim that some of the blame belongs to the government, which will pay its debt to the petitioner when the time comes, does not stand, not only because the petitioner is a private entity, but because the practical significance is imposing an economic burden for rehabilitation on the entire public.”

Michal Fattal