Struggle to Keep Downtown Jerusalem Hospital Afloat

Doctors at Jerusalem’s famous Bikur Holim hospital demonstrated in downtown Jerusalem against the closure of the landmark institution.

Contact Editor
Hillel Fendel, | updated: 17:49

Bikur Holim
Bikur Holim
Israel news photo:

Doctors at Jerusalem’s famous Bikur Holim hospital demonstrated in downtown Jerusalem on Sunday, trying to drum up support to ensure that the landmark institution does not close down for lack of money.

The association that runs the hospital announced last week that it is in the midst of a financial rehabilitation program, and that without immediate government help to the tune of 30 million shekels (nearly $8.5 million), the landmark hospital will have to close its doors next month.

The Bikur Holim hospital was founded in 1826 in a residential building in the Old City of Jerusalem, moving into its own building in 1854. The present building, just off the downtown Jaffa St.-King George intersection, was completed in 1925, while the Old City hospital continued to treat the chronically ill until 1947. 

Some 650 people are currently employed in the 200-bed Bikur Holim, including nearly 120 doctors, 225 nurses, 125 para-medics, and 180 administrative and other personnel. Some 6,000 babies are born there each year, and 5,000 operations are carried out there.

Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said that the hospital’s closure must be “prevented at all costs,” while his party colleague Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman called on the Finance Ministry to accept its financial plan and provide the missing 30 million shekels.

Dr. Effie Halpern, Chairman of the Doctors Union at Bikur Holim, highlighted the importance of maintaining a hospital in downtown Jerusalem: “As one who arrived at Sbarros [restaurant] 15 seconds after the horrific terrorist blast [in 2001 that murdered 15 people], I was able to  administer immediate aid to the wounded well before the Magen David Adom ambulances were able to pick their way through the city traffic. I call on the residents of Jerusalem to leave their apathy behind. Our emergency room is critical for hundreds of thousands of residents who work and visit in central Jerusalem every day [and who live nearby].”

The hospital was purchased about two years ago by Russian-Jewish billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, who promised to run it for five years. A bitter legal struggle is now underway between the hospital and its owner, replete with mutual recriminations.