Rachel Neiman
May 20, 2009, Updated September 12, 2012

Prof. Motti Ravid, the 71-year-old medical director of Mayanei HaYeshua Medical Center (MYMC) in Bnai Brak has recruited a pool of retirees to build his hospital from scratch.

Mandatory retirement may be a blessing for some, but for many public hospital doctors, it’s a curse: skilled physicians are pensioned off, and patients are robbed of a medical professional with years of service yet to give.

But the labor pool of medical retirees was just what the doctor ordered for Prof. Mordechai “Motti” Ravid, when he took over as medical director of Mayanei HaYeshua Medical Center (MYMC) in Bnai Brak.

Ravid, age 71, founding director of both Wolfson Medical Center and Rebecca Sieff Safed Medical Center, has recruited a slew of crack medical experts who, like himself, were forced to retire from public hospitals. Now, they are part of a strategy, spearheaded by Ravid and MYMC CEO Dr. Yoram Liwer, which is turning the private hospital’s business around from losses to profitability.

Israel has four types of hospitals, explains Ravid, a tall, energetic man with a shock of white hair and piercing blue eyes, government-owned hospitals; health fund hospitals; and private and public NGO-funded hospitals.

“These public hospitals, ourselves included, get no government support and are players in the free market. We are not an academic institution and are not subject to any union agreement. And that’s why we can employ people beyond their official pension age.”

“There are three potential sources for recruiting good people. One I call ‘The House of Lords’, or retirement. Another is the ‘glass ceiling’; people who find themselves in institutions where their boss may be younger and they envision themselves for another 10 years in an unpleasant environment. And the third are people who are tired of the constant rat race of academic medicine. And of course, new immigrants, where the US has great potential.”

“The lords are working very hard”

Prof. Gabriel Oelsner, age 71, ran the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sheba Medical Center-Tel Hashomer for over 20 years. Ravid pounced in 2004 when he heard Oelsner was due to retire and made a tempting offer: set up an Ob-Gyn department, from the ground up, at MYMC.

There was only one catch, says Oelsner: “My condition was ‘you have to buy me all the equipment that I need.’ And they purchased everything.”

The department is extremely important in a community such as Bnai Brak, where large families are the rule, rather than the exception.

His experience enabled Oelsner to set up his new clinic within weeks, but getting word out to the local population presented some unusual challenges. “I had to open a clinic, advertise it, print up brochures and distribute them, speak with the rabbis to get their approval.”

He’s on his feet most of the day as the bulk of MYMC’s daily turnover derives from Ob-Gyn. “We have 820 births per month, or almost 10,000 births per year, which is a lot. Tel Hashomer has 900 per month and that’s a much bigger hospital.”

Oelsner is also a presence in the operating room, where his proficiency is unmatched.

“Many of the operations that we do are endoscopic or laparoscopic. We can do a D&E [dilation and evacuation] up until the 26th week, which is done in very few hospitals in Israel,” he says, referring to the clinical situation in which an intrauterine pregnancy is present but no longer developing normally.

MYMC is able to do this only because of him, he admits. “The operating room begins and ends with experience and skill,” he says.

“He’s an excellent surgeon and a great help to everyone because when there’s an emergency he has the experience — and perfect manual skills,” adds Ravid.

“There are many doctors who are healthy, very young in terms of physical condition and mental capabilities as well as in ambition, and they perform marvelously with a fresh enthusiasm, because one: they are helping to build something, and two: many who worked over the years to establish divisions and departments are making a new start, from zero – of course with the necessary means – and many have ‘come alive’ again,” says Ravid. “I’ve talked to many of these doctors’ families and the typical response is, ‘My father/husband/wife feels young again!'”

“Maybe we’ve reached The House of Lords, but the lords are working very hard here,” says Oelsner with a smile.

Working for the love of it

Prof. Gabriel Gurman, age 72, the former chairman of anesthesiology at Beersheva’s Soroka University Medical Center, is also the man charged with maintaining MYMC’s mission as a pain-free hospital.

Israel suffers from a dearth of anesthesiologists and for 17 years, MYMC outsourced these services from another hospital. When the provider withdrew service Ravid was faced with either finding another subcontractor or taking on the greater challenge of creating a department.

True to his nature, he took the road less traveled and hired Gurman in 2007. Within a year and a half, the department has grown to a team of 12, with nine specialists and three US board-eligible anesthesiologists. “And this during a shortage!” Gurman exclaims.

“But the attraction of MYMC did its job. There are any number of doctors who call me, asking if there’s work. The atmosphere is unique, constructive, friendly – I hesitate to say non-competitive, but people didn’t come here to advance administratively or enrich their CV. They came to serve a population and to work in a comfortable framework,” says Gurman.

Gurman is also professor emeritus at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University and the author of a history of anesthesiology in Israel called Visionaries and Dreamers. His ambitions for the department include teaching and research, and setting up a fellowship in obstetric analgesia. “We have excellent clinical conditions because we have a lot of babies,” he says.

“You can’t learn this in medical school”

There was no neurology unit at MYMC when Prof. Nathan Gadot got there. Ravid recruited Gadot, former chairman of the department of neurology at Meir Hospital, Sapir Medical Center, “to build from scratch a neurology service that now has a busy clinic and a lot of consultation work. And he’s flourishing.”

Gadot, age 69, knew he was being headhunted and did his homework before he arrived. “We purchased equipment so that on the first day, we began organizing logistics and within six weeks the unit was ready. We provide consulting services to the hospital 24 hours a day to all ages including – as I’m a specialist in pediatric and child neurology – from birth,” he says.

Gadot credits the quick turnaround in creating the unit not only to his vast experience but “it is also testament to the institution that executed the logistics so quickly.

“You can’t learn this in medical school: to work with the hospital so that team sprit is maintained, work with management so that you express the unit’s needs as part of the hospital’s vision and not as a matter of ego. And you aspire to release patients – even when you know they’ll be back – with a smile on their face,” he says.

Gadot is now planning to set up a center for child development and hopes to expand the unit to a department. “We intend to take on another doctor and are seeking someone suitable,” he says.

The long-term plan for the hospital is to expand into a new facility and turn the present building into a women’s hospital. In addition to fundraising, more and more revenue is coming in from the religious and secular communities as word spreads about MYMC’s new services.

On one end of the spectrum: a maternity ward, newly refurbished by the designer of the Dan Hotel chain. On the other: a geriatric ward where patients come not to die, but to live out their years, in keeping with the hospital’s sanctity of life policy that is in line with the Jewish principle of the preservation of life.

MYMC’s immediate plans also include construction of an underground wartime hospital, the only one of its kind in central Israel.

The challenge is huge but Ravid is ready for it. “This is the third hospital I’m managing,” says Ravid, adding that MYMC is one of very few hospitals in Israel to achieve a balanced financial sheet. “I’ve built two, went back to being a doctor, and now made a loop to being a superintendent again.”

Does he still enjoy playing the medical system game, with all its ins-and-outs, internal politics and professional intrigues? “I like to be quick and creative,” he says. “These are the ways of doing the unexpected, of being a sheep in a world of wolves.”

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