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Issues of the Day Support for Hadassah

At the outset, I offer full disclosure: along with other members of my family, I have been treated at the Hadassah hospital and outpatient clinics on numerous occasions, including just last week. In fact, eight years ago physicians at the Center's Ein Kerem campus saved my life in a protracted struggle; a fictionalized account of that episode forms the backdrop of my recently completed novel, Dance of the Uroboros. Accordingly, I confess to being a passionate advocate of Israel's preeminent medical institution. I fervently believe that it is a vital pillar of Israeli society and a bridgehead to coexistence in the region and beyond.   


The Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem serves Israelis and non-Israelis alike and it is internationally renown for its research and training activities.  Founded nearly a century ago by Hadassah, a voluntary Jewish women's organization based in New York, the Jerusalem medical center today consists of two world-class teaching hospitals, numerous specialized clinics and an outstanding research program.


Over a million people a year, Israelis and non-Israelis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds are seen in Hadassah's 120 outpatient clinics and more than 70 departments and specialized units.  Hadassah's clinical departments, its labs and other facilities constitute the training grounds for the Hebrew University University's Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Public Health.


Ground-breaking procedures are performed in Hadassah's operating rooms and it is a beacon of hope for people suffering from illnesses and injuries that cannot be treated elsewhere. The institution is a center of clinical excellence.


It serves other functions as well.

A Center of Innovation and International Cooperation

Hadassah Medical Center's technology transfer company, Hadasit,  translates the research of its clinicians and scientists for application in therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices by bio-tech and pharmaceutical industries in Israel and around the world. The list of medical applications Hadasit has advanced is impressive in its variety and number. Much of this applied research and development activity is characterized by international and inter-institutional collaboration.


Hadassah has long been a mainstay of Israel international cooperation program with developing countries and its physicians and nurses often undertake clinical missions abroad. An example of institutional framework formalizing training for foreign medical specialists  is the International Master of Public Health degree program.


An Institution Under Threat

Hadassah is obviously a worthy institution. It is a medical refuge for Israelis and Palestinians and patients from throughout the Mideast and elsewhere. Its experts produce world-class medical advancements and its Hebrew University-affiliated medical and allied professional schools trains physicians and other medical staff in programs that are considered exemplary. The Center is also second only the Israeli government in the number of Jerusalem-area residents it employs. In other words, the Hadassah Medical Center is an essential organization on which many people depend for their medical needs and livelihoods.

Why, then, has so much ink been spilled over the past months over this venerable institution? Why has it recently been subject to such intensive scrutiny in the press and other forums?


Simply,  the medical center is in crisis. Threat of insolvency, privatization or closure is what has kept the Center in the headlines throughout the last six months. With a 370 million dollar debt (largely owed to its own employees and suppliers) that it has been unable to finance, Hadassah is on the brink of discontinuing services, as occurred during a ten-day strike in February. Unless a viable solution is found soon, the Hadassah Medical Center could undergo a fundamental transformation that would alter the Center's mission and humanitarian character and diminish its capacities.  


Hadassah and its Untenable Status

An article in a Wharton School of Business magazine entitled "What Does Israel’s Hadassah Crisis Mean for the Country’s Health Sector?" provides insight into the evolution of the crisis and its possible solutions.


As noted in the piece, mismanagement and failed oversight of the institution by its administrators and sponsors is partially to blame for the crisis. No less culpable is persistent government neglect, which has its contemporary  roots in the opposition to public medicine and predilections for privatization advocated by members of the ruling coalition.


Further, this nonprofit institution, born and maintained  so idealistically by voluntary women's organization for nearly a century is no longer sustainable as a charitable institution: it is too formidable a scientific and social force. With suitable supports from the government and the health maintenance organizations to which it provides services, Hadassah must now become economically independent and resilient enough to fulfill its mission and potential.


Administrative Reform and Government Support


Parallel to such support, the institution has no choice but to undertake administrative reform aimed at eliminating redundant staff overtime, reducing a hierarchy that is top-heavy with "managers," cutting perks, and curtailing out-of-control private practices maintained by some physicians at its hospitals. The institution will also have to improve its accounting and reporting measures and demonstrate higher standards of fiscal responsibility.


That said, given the unrivaled importance of this national, in fact, international medical asset, the Israeli government must overcome its ideological prejudices and buttress Hadassah until its stabilizes its finances and operating systems.

Unless the Netanyahu government does so swiftly and decisively, official neglect will sound the death knell of one of the pillars of Israeli society, an institution that is an  outstanding ambassador of goodwill and international cooperation while going about its primary mission of saving lives daily.  


A group, Friends of Hadassah, has posted an online Hebrew-language petition on behalf of the medical center.  The petition can be accessed here. I have signed it and urge others to do so as well.  

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved