The Special Case of Teva's Eli Hurvitz

If this is the medical treatment that Eli Hurvitz received in one of the best hospitals in the country, what would the quality of treatment be for an unknown citizen who is not close to the establishment and not rich?

The first response was fear. The first thought was, if this is the case, what chance does an ordinary person have at all? Because if this is the medical treatment that Eli Hurvitz received in one of the best hospitals in the country, what would the quality of treatment be for an unknown citizen who is not close to the establishment and not rich?

After all, there was no one who did not know Hurvitz, either personally or from seeing him on television: the leading Israeli industrialist who succeeded in doing the impossible when he turned the small local Teva company into a global pharmaceutical empire with dozens of branches in dozens of countries.

But none of this helped him when he was hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer on November 21, 2011. He died that same day of an infection and not of the cancer from which he had been suffering. Eight months have elapsed but only now has it become clear what actually happened there.

The results of an investigation carried out by the Health Ministry ombudsman, Prof. Haim Hershko, were published only a few days ago and they were alarming. Hershko found that important medical information was not transfered between members of the medical staff who treated Hurvitz that day in the hospital. The severe results of the blood tests taken from him in the morning hours, 10 hours before his vital organs collapsed, did not reach the doctors who treated him on the evening shift.

Hershko established that the staff who treated Hurvitz did not correctly estimate the severity of his case and gave the family too optimistic an assessment. The staff also did not contact the doctor who was on call to treat him. The duty doctor did not respond to a request from the family and the nursing staff, and waited three and a half hours before coming to see him.

"The event reveals a significant weakness in the department's work procedures which finds expression in the failure to transfer vital information and the lack of a system of overlap of responsibility," the report stated.

It was not simple to get to the bottom of the truth. A regular citizen would not have managed to penetrate the various layers of bureaucracy; he would have given up on the way because of exhaustion and despair. To our good fortune, however, this time they had to face the tremendous force of the mechanism of Hurvitz's eldest daughter, Vered Shalev-Hurvitz.

Already at the funeral she did not mince her words and shocked those present when she accused the hospital over the grave of her father. "During your last hours," she declared, "I saw the ugly face of the state. For long hours you waited for a doctor to come and examine you in the department where you lay, while your condition continued to deteriorate. You were insulted by a hardhearted nurse. A long convoy of doctors eventually arrived, but then it was already too late. This inflexibility has to be stopped."

I believed every word of hers, even before Prof. Hershko investigated the matter. After all, this is not the first time we have heard about similar cases. But we must not draw the wrong conclusions. These cases are the exceptions. Most of the time we get devoted, sensitive and good care - both at Sheba and at the country's other hospitals.

In any case, in light of Shalev-Hurvitz's harsh comments, the hospital conducted an investigation and reached the unsurprising conclusion that not only did Hurvitz receive VIP treatment, but there was also no negligence or neglect involved anywhere in the whole treatment process. End of story.

But it wasn't so. Shalev-Hurvitz was not willing to surrender. She responded immediately and said the description of the incident by the hospital did not reflect reality. She demanded the establishment of an external team to examine the case, "that will examine the matter without any bias," and draw conclusions so that similar cases of "failure and inhuman response of the medical staff to an elderly person will not be repeated in the future."

We are very lucky that Shalev-Hurvitz insisted. That is why today we have learned the truth while many other similar incidents are buried within the hospital. And the minute the truth is known, there is a chance that the Health Ministry will not make due with just Hershko's report, but will publish regulations and procedures for hospitals so that the Hurvitz case can never happen again, and we will all receive professional and humane care - even if we are not VIPs.