In honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the Israeli organization United Hatzalah dedicated its new “National Lifesaving Headquarters” in Jerusalem, which included first-floor renovations and plans for another three to four floors of overhauls. In addition, through the generous donations of dozens of benefactors, mostly from the United States, it also added 70 new ambucycles to their fleet.
“Our volunteers are the heart and soul of our organization,” said Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah. “The new headquarters that we are building in Jerusalem has been thought out, detail by detail. Everything we can do to meet the needs of our volunteers we are doing, and all of it is in an effort to assist them in saving lives every day.”
Additions to the building will include an emergency simulation center, bomb-shelter control room, auditorium and conference rooms, medical-equipment supply center, a garden, pharmacy, ambucycle repair lab, medical lending library, training classrooms, volunteer’s lounge and more.
United Hatzalah is Israel’s volunteer team of first-responders. Focused on pre-ambulatory care, it sends first responders out — from wherever they happen to be at the moment — to nearby emergencies. According to a recent article in Israeli media from last spring, the average ambulance response time in Israel is between approximately 11 and 12 minutes. But United Hatzalah boasts a 90-second average response time to emergencies within Israel’s large cities, and three minutes in smaller towns.
“The speed and tenacity in which our organization and our volunteers display every single day when they go out and respond to calls is nothing short of superhuman,” said Raphael Poch, United Hatzalah’s International Spokesperson. “All of our volunteers know that we are in a race — a race against death, against pain, against injury, and a race against the ambulances. It is a race of lifesaving, and that is a race that we are determined to win every single time we head out to respond to an emergency call.”
‘At a moment’s notice’
United Hatzalah volunteers respond to approximately 1,000 emergency calls per day utilizing nearly 5,000 volunteers across the country. All services, including transport, are completely free of charge. “Over 2.5 million people have received help from volunteers in the decade since its existence, and not a single person has ever received a bill,” said Poch. “The organization does not receive funding from the government for its services, but does receive financial stipends for educational development and training in outlying areas.”
In comparison, Magen David Adom — Israel’s national ambulance service — sends ambulances, salaried paramedics and often volunteers out from centralized dispatch locations to respond to emergencies. The organization is partially funded by donations and partially funded by the government via various alternate channels, such as local and regional councils and townships that pay a service fee for use of ambulances in their residential areas. Their treatment and care can cost anywhere from 180 NIS ($50) for helping to lift a person out of bed to more than 1,000 NIS (almost $300) for an ambulance transport to the hospital from various outlying cities.
While both organizations are recognized nationally by Israel’s Health Ministry as being first-response organizations and recognized by the Internal Security Ministry as being emergency-response organizations, together with police and fire departments, United Hatzalah’s quick response time has rendered ambulances inadequate for immediate care and treatment.
According to Poch, United Hatzalah is also distinctive in that the organization is made up entirely of volunteers. “When a volunteer goes through extensive training and sets out on a path in life that will mean that they need to drop everything and run at a moment’s notice, there is a certain level of commitment there,” he said.
“I have seen it time and again in the field that the effort put in to any given emergency call by volunteers goes above and beyond the call of duty because it isn’t out of duty that these volunteers do what they do. It is out of love. A love for fellow human beings.”
Poch, who is also a first-responder for United Hatzalah, spoke of a recent call he went on in Efrat, a city that usually has a fast ambulance response time. “I found myself and another United Hatzalah volunteer to be the only responders at the incident for some 40 minutes. While we maintained the patient in a stable condition, it took 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive,” he related. “No other volunteers from MDA came either, in spite of there being approximately 120 of them who live in the city.
“When an ambulance finally did arrive,” he continued, adding that it had to come from a different city, “I helped the driver transport the patient to the ambulance. MDA charged for that service. UH didn’t, in spite of us both doing the same physical actions.”
Even more, Poch said, the ambulance driver told him that the competition between the two has resulted in better treatment of MDA employees — and voiced his hope that United Hatzalah continues to grow and succeed.