ELCA presiding bishop asks U.S. government to support hospital in Jerusalem

2/10/2014 12:00:00 AM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has requested that the U.S. government allocate a portion of its bilateral support to the Palestinian National Authority to paying its debt to Augusta Victoria Hospital, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
            In a Feb. 4 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Eaton said that while the hospital is "operating in the black," its critical medical services are "threatened by an acute financial crisis caused by the accumulated debt from the Palestinian National Authority."
            "The debt arose from unpaid treatments in 2013 for patients referred by the Palestinian National Authority to Augusta Victoria Hospital," Eaton wrote.
            The hospital is a program of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a global communion of 142 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States.
            The ELCA continues to provide annual financial support to Augusta Victoria Hospital, which cared for nearly 28,000 inpatients and outpatients in 2012. The hospital's specialized care centers offered more than 13,200 dialysis sessions, nearly 10,000 chemotherapy sessions and more than 14,000 interventions in the radiation oncology unit on an outpatient basis.
            In an interview Dr. Tawfiq A. Nasser, chief executive officer of the hospital, said, "It is frustrating for us to be running a very successful hospital serving tens of thousands of patients only to be hindered by external factors beyond our control that are negatively affecting the wellbeing of our patients. The lives of our patients are held hostage to the political economy of the region that is beyond the control of anyone at the hospital. We appeal to anyone who can make a difference to put politics and bureaucracy aside, think of the lives of these poor cancer patients who can only be treated at Augusta Victoria Hospital, and rush to help in any way they can. It is the right thing to do. It is the human thing to do." 
            In her letter to Kerry, Eaton wrote that while the hospital is managed "efficiently and effectively," the current situation "results solely from the Palestinian National Authority's inability to pay. The money that the U.S. government would deduct from its support of the Palestinian National Authority would be covering the Palestinian National Authority payable accounts and would be helping (the Authority) meet its obligations. It is money for the Palestinian National Authority, not Augusta Victoria Hospital."
            Eaton's letter to Kerry is in response to a request from the Rev. Martin Junge, LWF general secretary. In a Jan. 29 letter, Junge asked communion leaders to take up the situation regarding the hospital "with your respective governments."
            "The Lutheran World Federation remains steadfast in its commitment to the ongoing management of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and the life-saving services (the hospital) provides but is deeply concerned about the current financial situation facing the hospital," according to a Feb. 5 LWF statement.
            "It is the political responsibility of the U.S. government to preserve the status quo in East Jerusalem and to ensure that a humanitarian crisis does not develop," Eaton wrote. "A humanitarian issue will most certainly arise if Augusta Victoria Hospital is unable to meet the needs of patients seeking treatment. The lives of patients at (the hospital) must not be placed in jeopardy because of this situation."
            Augusta Victoria Hospital "also provides employment and institutional stability in the area. The hospital is a very important ministry in the region that needs to be able to continue to offer vital care to patients. It would be travesty if this health care system was allowed to collapse," said the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, a member of the hospital board and executive for administration at the ELCA churchwide organization.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with almost 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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Melissa Ramirez Cooper
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