With the clock ticking for the cash-strapped Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem to reach a deal with creditors, the national treasurer of Hadassah said it was time for the Israeli government to shoulder some of the financial burden of running the institution.
Ellyn Lyons issued the call at the annual education symposium of the organization’s Southern New Jersey region April 30 at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe.
She was filling in for Hadassah president Marcie Natan, who had been slated to be keynote speaker but had been called to Israel two days earlier for emergency talks with high-level Israeli government officials about the crisis at the hospital.
“We are a privately owned hospital,” Lyons told the crowd of several hundred. “Each one of us is an owner of the hospital. But we function as a public hospital. That means we can’t just close an emergency room.”
The medical center has an accumulated deficit of 1.25 billion shekels, or $360 million, worsened by a 16-day strike by employees. In February it declared bankruptcy after two large Israeli banks cut off its credit lines.
Hadassah has reportedly contributed $885 million to the hospital from 2000 to 2012.
A Jerusalem District Court judge had granted a three-month court order protecting it from creditors to reach a bailout agreement.
With that bailout deadline set to expire May 12 if an alternate plan is not hammered out, the court-appointed trustees would present their own plan for restructuring or possible liquidation.
Critics say the Israeli government has been extending unfairly low reimbursements for medical care at the Hadassah hospitals at Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus. A government committee, in a report issued last month, in turn shifted blame to the finance and health ministries “for imposing onerous regulations while engaging in poor financial supervision,” Ha’aretz reported.
Lyons said the hospital had been supported by Hadassah since its founding in 1939, but expensive advanced technology and high-cost research have stretched the fund-raising scope of the organization.
“I’m willing to bet every person sitting here has a family member who has received health care that we would consider a modern medical miracle,” said Lyons, a Toms River resident. “But miracles don’t happen like the parting of the sea.”
The hospital with its 6,000 employees — making it the second-largest employer in Jerusalem after the government — is continuing to function as a research and treatment institution, providing medical innovations, treating patients of all religions and ethnicities, and attracting patients from many countries.
“Hadassah permeates the rest of that holy city and has planted seeds around that holy country,” said Lyons, adding the hospital had contributed more than a billion dollars to the Israeli and Jerusalem economy over the last 10 years. Additionally, it opened the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower in late 2012 at a cost of $363 million.
In citing recent research advances at the hospital, Lyons described the work of Benny Rubinoff, director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center, who is seeking a cure for macular degeneration by implanting pigmentation from embryonic stem cells in the eyes of rats.
“Macular degeneration in the U.S. alone affects seven million people,” said Lyons. “It is the number one cause of blindness in the U.S. and around the world. Can you imagine the impact this will have…around the world, in my generation, not 20 years hence?”
Just two days earlier, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved clinical trials in the U.S. based on the work of Dimitrios Karousis, a Hadassah senior neurologist, in which a patient’s own stem cells are used to treat incurable and fatal amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“In Israel we founded and have been funding the health care system,” said Lyons “but it needs revamping.”