United Hatzalah, the volunteer network of emergency medical rapid responders in Israel, has a new partner — in Jersey City.
Eli Beer, president and founder of the Israeli group that responds to more than 650 calls a day around the Jewish state, noted during a recent visit to The Jewish Week that the Jersey City pilot is the first community-based emergency response program in the U.S.
Modeled after United Hatzalah, it is called United Rescue and is a project of the Jersey City Medical Center, its home base.
After completing 90 hours of classroom and on-the-job training, 50 volunteers in Jersey City were certified last month as community-based emergency caregivers. The goal for the program is to dramatically decrease emergency response times.
In Israel, the average response time for United Hatzalah is three minutes, with about a 90-second response time in Jerusalem.
Attending the Jersey City graduation ceremony, Beer said it was “one of the most rewarding moments I have had,” being able to “share the Israeli model of lifesaving.” He cited Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop for his support of the program. Fulop, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, was an admirer of the United Hatzalah program in Israel.
The key to success, Beer explained, is a sophisticated tracking system that uses a GPS-based mobile app to alert volunteers closest to the scene of an emergency. If the volunteers can respond, they send word back to dispatch via the app, which allows dispatchers to track how quickly they are able to get to the scene. The Jersey City volunteers arrive by foot or bicycle; future plans call for them to have medically equipped motorcycles, as used in Israel.
The first group of Jersey City volunteers range in age from 18 to 55, represent all faiths and include doctors as well as unemployed men and women, according to Paul Sossman, a paramedic at the Jersey City Medical Center who is heading up the program. It initially is limited to a quarter-mile radius of the hospital and will expand as more volunteers join.
In its first few weeks there have been about 40 cases involving United Rescue, with response times ranging from 40 seconds to “a couple of minutes,” Sosman said. “It’s been very impressive.”
About 350 people are going through the training program presently, he added, with several hundred more in the pipeline.
Sosman visited Israel in June as a guest of United Hatzalah to study its operations and was deeply impressed by the sophistication and speed of its work, he said.
United Hatzalah, whose services are free, treats more than 245,000 people a year in Israel. It is not affiliated with New York-based Hatzalah groups.
“People think we are just for the Orthodox community, but we are for everyone,” said Beer, who noted that among the more than 3,000 volunteers in Israel are many Arab and Druze citizens. “We are a very real example of coexistence,” he said.
United Hatzalah also has operations in Brazil, Panama, Lithuania and Ukraine. Beer hopes to expand in the U.S. as well, starting with Detroit.