Coronavirus Burns Hole in Hospital Budgets

YERUSHALAYIM -
State Control Committee Chairman MK Ofer Shelach.

The coronavirus crisis has wrought havoc with hospital budgets in two ways: by necessitating the establishment of special units to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients; and by forcing cancellation of thousands of non-essential surgeries that would have brought in significant revenue.

As a result, the chiefs of Israel’s government-owned hospitals are warning of possible layoffs, and pointing the finger of blame at the government.

The chairman of the Government-owned Hospital Directors Forum, Dr. Michael Halberthal warned union representatives: “Despite being at the forefront of the coronavirus crisis for the past six months, the government has yet to provide appropriate solutions to hospitals to enable their day-to-day operations,” according to a report.

According to Dr. Halberthal who is the CEO of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, “the government’s conduct is endangering hospital’s capabilities to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and other challenges we face now and may face in the future.”

The State Control Committee discussed the condition of the country’s hospitals. Committee chair MK Ofer Shelach (Yesh Atid) claimed that only 19 beds were added to the hospitals during the coronavirus crisis, and 154 during the course of the year.

“The internal wards are full, we have no staff,” said the director-general of the Shaare Tzedek Medical Center Prof. Ofer Merin during the meeting.

“Yesterday we canceled surgeries and sent patients home because the intensive care unit is full,” added Prof. Merin. “There is no money to pay workers’ salaries, not because we are mismanaged, but because the government transfers budget only to its hospitals, independent hospitals cannot survive this way.”

The CEO of the Wolfson Hospital, Dr. Anat Engel, told a similar story: “The coronavirus has created a large hole in the budget of all hospitals, it is our expectation that the government will compensate us so that we can continue to address any future needs,” Dr. Engel told Ynet.

Sketching out the budget problem, she said, “In our case, the cost of treating the coronavirus has reached NIS 120 million, on top of the deficit of another NIS 120 million. These are huge sums, we must have assistance from the state,” she said.

“I do not want to say that in the end, we may not be able to recruit additional staff, because we may end up not being able to pay salaries at all.”

In response, a senior Health Ministry official told the committee that the shortage in staffing is due to the Finance Ministry’s refusal to increase funding.

Head of Nursing in the ministry, Dr. Shoshi Goldberg said that she has 1,500 nurses already trained and ready to go to work in hospitals and will have 2,600 more by the end of the month, but lack of funding will prevent it.

The Finance Ministry official charged with financing the health care system said the allocation of funds is the responsibility of the Health Ministry.

Shelach concluded that the Health Ministry had been negligent, and “now they are improvising.” But without proper planning the system will fail.