Hadassah, an Endangered Treasure

The beleaguered institution is not just a great health care provider but also a center of training and research.

Yaakov Naparstek
Yaakov Naparstek
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Yaakov Naparstek
Yaakov Naparstek

The media’s intensive coverage of Hadassah Medical Center’s financial crisis has put great emphasis on managerial failures, salaries and the impact of private medicine conducted in a public institution (which the media views as a cause of the crisis). But amid all the articles about and analyses of the failures, virtually no attention has been paid to the unique place that Hadassah’s university hospital occupies in Israeli academia, or to what is liable to happen if this institution is harmed.

The university hospital was founded in 1936, when the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, signed an agreement to establish a medical center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus. This laid the cornerstone for a fruitful collaboration between the two institutions that constituted the basis for medical studies in Israel. That collaboration has lasted more than 70 years, and it resulted in the training of thousands of doctors, most of whom serve in senior positions in Israeli medical institutions.

The doctors/researchers/teachers of Hadassah Medical Center are members of the faculty of the medical school, a fact that demonstrates the importance of their research and teaching activity. Every year, more than 300 medical students learn in Hadassah’s hospitals, far exceeding the number who study in Israel’s other academic hospitals. Every year, the hospital’s teachers also train about 120 doctors, who have a reputation for excellence both in Israel and abroad and are sought after as residents by every hospital. In recent years, another 50 students have been added through the army’s Tsameret project. The hospital trains these students in military medicine, and they are the future doctors of the Israel Defense Forces.

In addition, the hospital conducts a variety of research projects in the biomedical sciences. The figure of the physician-researcher is gradually disappearing in the Western world; the difficulty of engaging simultaneously in both advanced medicine and demanding, competitive research has led many doctors to give up research. But Hadassah attaches great importance to physician-researchers: About half the research stipends awarded by the Israel Science Foundation to Israeli academic hospitals go to Hadassah researchers, and about 35 percent of all the medical studies published by Israeli medical institutions over the last two decades were published by Hadassah doctors. Hadassah’s Ein Karem campus is unique in the world of Israeli biomedical research, because it has a hospital, a medical school, a dental school and a pharmacy school side by side. All four institutions are linked by a long-standing tradition of fruitful scientific cooperation, which has turned this campus into a leading center of biomedical research. The campus’ research infrastructure includes a tissue bank, a center for genomic and proteomic research, a center for the physiological monitoring of diseases in experimental animals, a cyclotron (a small-particle accelerator) to create new isotopes and a GMP laboratory that allows pharmaceuticals and cell cultures to be produced in suitable conditions for use in humans. All these have enabled the development of innovative treatments like the cancer drug Doxil, Gliadel implants for preventing the recurrence of brain tumors, and deep brain stimulation to suppress the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Altogether, Hadassah Medical Center’s research has produced more than 400 ideas that served as the basis for more than 30 biomedical start-up companies in which tens of millions of shekels have been invested.

Now, when the state has been asked to help in Hadassah’s recovery, we must ask ourselves whether the continued existence of Hadassah Medical Center in its current form is of any importance. I have no doubt that the answer is affirmative – not just because of the doctors Hadassah trains, but also because its engagement in biomedical research alongside advanced medicine enables it to perform procedures that are at the cutting edge of medicine. For instance, Hadassah was the first hospital in Israel to perform a liver transplant, a bone marrow transplant and gene therapy.

Hadassah’s doctors are accused of the sin of hubris. As one of the institution’s longtime physicians, I must confess we were indeed guilty of this sin in the distant past, but no longer. There’s no doubt that many academic medical centers in Israel are at the forefront of clinical and research activity, and in some fields they are better than we are. But there’s also no reason not to be proud of what we ought to be proud of: In both the scope of our academic activity and our contribution to research and teaching in Israel, we stand out.

And one last word about Jerusalem: This is a poor city whose economy is based primarily on tourism – an industry based on low salaries – as well as on Hebrew University. Hadassah’s Ein Karem campus, with its developed bio-pharmaceutical centers, is an important part of the university. In my view, any harm to this unique campus will deal a mortal blow to Jerusalem’s economy and status.

Hadassah’s two hospitals won’t be closed, because they serve two-thirds of Jerusalem’s population. But the institution is liable to lose its special character. The nature of this character is such that it’s easy to lose, but regaining it would take many years and a great deal of money. To me, the loss of Hadassah’s uniqueness would be no less grave than the loss of Ashdod Port or the Israel Electric Corporation. And if the government isn’t wise enough to see this, we will all be the losers.

Prof. Yaakov Naparstek is Hadassah’s executive deputy director general of research and academics.

Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. When will it go into recovery?

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