The new maternity ward at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center could easily pass for a four-star hotel: Each of its 51 spacious private rooms has a customized bed for giving birth and a second one for the mother’s partner to stay with her overnight.
The walls are paneled and the floor is parquet. The room has a custom-designed nursing chair as well as soft lighting, wide-screen TV and meals delivered in.
But for Ichilov the luxurious accommodations that were formally opened last week are nothing less than a weapon in the war for the Israeli baby.
Births are a big business in Israel and a much more profitable one than tending to ordinary sick people. Moreover, expectant mothers are free to pick the hospital they want to deliver their babies.
For Ichilov, a public hospital, the fancy accommodations are a way to see off rivals with the most competitive product on the market.
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“When we planned the new center we went out and examined what new mothers want and we discovered the public hospitals don’t reach the standards they want and so many of them go to private maternity centers,” explained Ronny Gamzu, the medical center’s CEO.
He dismissed the idea of a private room as an indulgence. “More and more women want to be with their spouses after the birth. A private room is designed to let the woman be with her partner, spouse or someone else – no other reason, not as a luxury. That’s a demand that came from the market.”
In any case, Ichilov’s Lis Maternity and Women’s Hospital was delivering 7,000 babies when it was opened 20 years ago and now delivers more than 11,000, said Gamzu. The new facility not only takes into account current needs but forecasts for future growth, he said.
It’s a luxury that from an accounting point of view, the hospital can pay for. The hospitals are paid 13,600 shekels ($3,700) for each birth, compared with 3,300 shekels a day for other hospitalizations. The typical mother giving birth spends 48 hours in the hospital, and often even less.
Moreover, the money is paid by the government’s National Insurance Institute, which has a reputation for paying on time. Other hospitalization costs are covered by health maintenance organizations, which delay payment and often pay less than the official 3,300 shekels.
Israeli hospitals benefit three times over – a high daily patient-turnover rate, low costs for an uncomplicated birth and immediate payment. Gamzu is critical of the payment structure that makes delivering babies more lucrative than other hospitalizations.
“I would be happy if they would reduce the payment for giving birth in order to increase the rate for internal medicine. In 2005 they did distorted things by doing the reverse,” he said.
“So we should the opposite. Especially when the population is getting old and there are not many people who are building internal medicine departments, we need action in the opposite direction. “
Ichilov isn’t the only institution in the competition for delivering babies. When the Assuta Hospital opened in Ashdod, Kaplan Hospital in nearby Rehovot launched a publicity campaign urging expectant mothers “to come home” to their old, familiar maternity ward.
In Jerusalem, where the large Haredi population ensures a steady flow of business because of the community’s high birthrate, hospitals compete with special offers such as an extra night for free.
Critics say lavish spending on maternity wards inevitably comes at the expense of investment in other hospital operations, but Gamzu denies that. At Ichilov, work is to begin in the next few months on what he calls the medical center’s “flagship project” – a new, 200-million- shekel emergency room that will more than double the ER’s size to 7,800 square meters.
He also pointed out that Ichilov was the only hospital in Israel to open a new internal medicine department in the last five years. It has solved most of the problem of too few beds and has moved two internal medicine departments to the hospital’s Ofer Tower, where facilities are the newest and best in the medical center.