PA Pays Off Some Debt to Save Jerusalem Hospital
Administration divided over solution, with facility unable to provide cancer treatments since beginning of October
Members of the administration at Jerusalem’s Al-Mutala Hospital are divided over the Palestinian Authority’s approach to a financial crisis that forced the hospital to stop providing treatment to cancer patients beginning October 3.
On October 27, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the PA’s Health Ministry had wired NIS 20 million (about $6 million) to the hospital, also known as Augusta Victoria, to pay off part of the debt it owes the facility.
The payment was followed by a meeting in Ramallah between Shtayyeh, PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara and Health Minister Dr. Mai Alkaila to discuss radical solutions to the crisis “in order to support” the hospital “as well as protect it,” Shtayyeh said in a press release.
Together with a transfer of about NIS 5 million last week, the latest payment covers NIS 25 million of the PA’s NIS 68 million invoiced and audited debts to Al-Mutala, leaving an unpaid balance of NIS 43 million, Shtayyeh said, noting that there were additional bills the hospital had yet to send. The hospital claims that the PA’s debt totals approximately NIS 200 million.
According to the statement, Shtayyeh, Bishara and Alkaila also discussed the possibility of increasing the PA’s regular monthly payments to the six Jerusalem hospitals it funds in order to cover at least half of their monthly expenses and thus “maintain [their] financial stability.”
Walid Nammour, CEO of Al-Mutala, explained to The Media Line that the hospital crisis wasn’t new, although it had reached a peak for several reasons, among which was the end of US financial aid to the PA. Part of this aid money went directly to hospitals to cover the costs of treating Palestinian patients transferred there by the PA’s Health Ministry.
“We are the only hospital that provides treatment to cancer patients [referred by the PA], each of which costs the hospital NIS 20,000 to 40,000 per month. Aside from that, the hospital needs about NIS 1 million each month for medications,” Nammour said.
“We used to receive $25 million per year, but since 2018, the American government stopped its support, which means that the hospital lost $50 million from its budget,” he explained.
In addition, he pointed to the PA’s decision in March to end the transfer of Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals, which raised the number being transferred to Al-Mutala.
“This has increased the burden on the hospital, whose monthly bills jumped by 50%,” he said.
Nammour added that there were signs of solutions following Shtayyeh’s discussion with his ministers.
“We are currently studying what was discussed in the government meeting,” he said.
However, other administrators at the hospital leaked word that they were against the PA’s proposed solution, stating that money transfers would not solve the crisis.
Osama Najjar, spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry, told The Media Line that the ministry has worked hard to cover its debt to Al-Mutala but, due to the PA’s financial crisis and its order to stop transferring patients to Israeli hospitals, the debt had increased.
“It would be extremely hard to pay the whole amount at once. The government is finding solution,” Najjar said.
Dr. Ghassan Toubasi, a leading political activist in the West Bank, told The Media Line that the solution suggested for Al-Mutala was unsuitable to the scale of the problem and that neglect reflected poor planning and management.
“The Palestinian situation as a whole is very difficult,” Toubasi said. “Neither the PA nor the opposition [Hamas] has solutions to what’s happening in the country, while other political powers don’t exist anymore. We are witnessing a state of functional division between the two ruling parties in the West Bank and Gaza, while civil society is completely marginalized.”
Moreover, Toubasi said, the interests of those who control capital in the West Bank are being prioritized over those involved in Palestinian national interests, and that this negatively affects all sectors of Palestinian society.
In a press release published on Saturday, Health Minister Alkaila urged Palestinian patients refused admission to Al-Mutala Hospital because of the financial crisis to apply for admission to other Palestinian government or private hospitals through the Health Ministry’s department overseeing medical transfers.
“The Palestinian government attaches high priority and importance to Jerusalem’s hospitals, among them Al-Mutala Hospital, for its geographical location in the heart of the Palestinian capital, and its long national role in serving patients,” the minister said.