Why Hadassah's Demise Would Be a Tragedy

I received first-rate treatment at Jerusalem's ailing Hadassah hospital, but why don't Hadassah's funders prioritize patient care rather than executive perks?

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Ever since Bernie Madoff yanked the foundations out from under his pyramid , Haaretz's Gidi Weitz and Roni Linder-Ganz have been reporting the troubles at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, comparing it recently to “an empire in decline,” with Hadassah, funded by the Women's Zionist Organization of America, as the wicked Queen of the Night, and the hospital personnel - particularly its senior echelons - as greedy.

However, it is a truism of Israeli politics, that “what you see from here you don’t see from there.” This also applies to healthcare at Hadassah: From the perspective of the patient, the medical center is a city of hope and deserves a good word.

In the middle of last year I had the misfortune of discovering I had a serious illness. From that moment on, although it is a private hospital, I have had the good fortune of being treated at Hadassah Ein Karem entirely within the public health system as an outpatient and latterly as an inpatient in the much-criticized but very effective new hospitalization tower.

Through reading and in conversations with knowledgeable people at both the giving and receiving ends of medical care here and abroad I learned things I never wanted to know about cancer. Indisputably, the care at Hadassah has been topflight in terms of the medical science – and also kind and humane. I have consulted excellent specialists in various fields, I have been given the most modern diagnostic tests, medications have been adjusted to my adverse reactions and for all this I have not paid anything beyond my taxes and my monthly fees to the national health insurance scheme over the years.

This, of course, is in contrast to the situation in the United States even after the passage of Obamacare; my brother in California, on medical advice, ascertained that a single genetic test would have cost him $4,000 each for himself and his descendants. (Luckily it wasn’t necessary.) Similarly, Elizabeth Rosenthal reported in last week in the New York Times on a woman in Arkansas who was charged more than $25,000 for treatment of a skin cancer.

However, it cannot be said that treatment here never costs individuals anything beyond their monthly HMO fees and taxes. Staffing cuts and also, apparently the (probably correct) perception that a patient’s independence of the system aids a swift recovery have created the expectation at the hospital that the patient at the hospital will be supported day and night by at least one relative or friend. They, along with the patient – in the sense of the sick person – are expected to be patient at all times, in the sense of infinitely tolerant of delay.

In many parts of the hospital there seems to be only one appointment time – 8:00 A.M., and in the most extreme instance it was not until 6:00 P.M. that the procedure began. This practice has the benefit of affording plenty of time to observe patients from every walk of life – from familiar-looking Jerusalemites to pistol-packing settlers (how did they get past security?) to veiled Muslim women and Filipinas accompanied by their solicitous Israeli employers. However, the expenditure of time off from work, i.e. money lost by not having been earned, must be costing the economy a pretty packet, perhaps even more than employing additional nurses would cost.

Doctors, too, forfeit income by remaining at Hadassah. One respected and innovative specialist confided that her base salary is comparable to that of a translator for this newspaper, while according to a site for healthcare professionals in the United States a doctor in her specialty would be earning more than 10 times that amount. She also said, ruefully, that no one talks about patients or research at Hadassah any more – all they talk about is money.

In the meantime, mirroring the overall and increasing income inequality in Israel – one of the highest among the OECD countries - Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, who headed the Hadassah Medical Organization when the hospital fell into the Madoff hole, is drawing both hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in retirement pay from the organization and a government salary as head of the National Insurance Institute.

The women of the American organization must revise their priorities in favor of hiring and maintenance rather than executive perks and the Israeli government must increase its support for the hospital. It is not an evil empire but rather a beacon of health and hope. Its demise would be tragic. 

Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem.Credit: Shiran Granot

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