(March 30, 2020 / JNS) With the coronavirus pandemic isolating thousands of at-risk Israelis in their homes, United Hatzalah—the independent, nonprofit Emergency Medical Service (EMS) organization—opened a “humanitarian emergency center” on March 25 to help coordinate and deliver food packages to elderly citizens and Holocaust survivors.
In partnership with the Israel Association of Community Centers and Lev Echad, and with financial support from the Family Foundation of Inbar & Marius Nacht, it launched the new dispatch center, which in addition to its Jerusalem emergency dispatch center manages its 30,000 volunteers that make up “the largest humanitarian aid group currently operating in Israel,” according to Dovie Maisel, vice president of operations for United Hatzalah.
The “severe quarantine rules,” he told JNS, have required 2 million people to stay at home, including those over 65 years of age, many without access to essentials such as medicine, food and emotional support.
At the special Jerusalem center, dispatchers sit at least six feet apart from one another, responding to thousands of calls on a daily basis. They answer calls in various languages, including Hebrew, English, Russian, Arabic, French, Yiddish and even sign language, by chat to support the diverse communities in Israel.
The initiative uses United Hatzalah’s existing technology to locate the closest, specially trained volunteers based on the GPS on their phones and alert them to a humanitarian emergency in their proximity.
“In just the first day of this operation, volunteers from cities across the country, working together with local social services from cities and regional councils, have delivered tens of thousands of food packages and assisted thousands more in obtaining medication and essential supplies when the recipients couldn’t leave their homes,” he told JNS.
The initiative, said Poch, has received approval and praise from Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who promised support from his ministry. The Ministry for Social Equality, added Poch, will also be forwarding requests for help that it receives.
General manager of the Israel Association of Community Centers, Raz Frohlich, and chairman of Lev Echad Erez Eschel each added that their work with United Hatzalah will serve the community even after the coronavirus (COVID-19) subsides.
Launching a pocket-sized virus tracker
Maisel also announced the launch of Track Virus, an app that empowers private citizens to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. “This app enables every person to track where they had been without compromising their privacy or sharing their personal details,” he said.
“The app presents the complete epidemiological timeline of known COVID-19 positive patients and cross-references this information with the user’s GPS location,” he explained. If a match has been found, users are alerted that they have been in close proximity to an infected person and may be required to self-isolate, thus helping prevent the continued spread of the disease.
With Israel’s ambulance services “overtaxed and spread extremely thin” as they arrange for thousands of home coronavirus tests and respond to everyday medical emergencies, claimed Poch, “United Hatzalah is stepping up to fill that gap, responding to a growing number of medical emergencies across the country as well as fielding numerous queries for COVID-19 advice.”
Taking protective measures to ensure the health and safety of its volunteers, the organization has purchased approximately 25,000 personal protective suits (PPEs) for their volunteers to wear in the field—a necessity as their fleet of ambulances have been called upon to help transfer coronavirus patients between hospitals and special quarantine centers.
As infection cases rise dramatically in Israel and abroad, said Poch, “our volunteer medics continue to put themselves on the line to provide emergency medical care to anyone in need.”
Eli Beer, from hospital bed: “Keep supporting critical organizations.”
As United Hatzalah continues its efforts in Israel, organization founder and chairman Eli Beer was hospitalized in Miami and put on a ventilator on Friday, March 20th, after contracting coronavirus on Purim while raising money for the organization. In a video that he made public before being intubated, Beer noted that the public should “keep davening and doing mitzvahs,” supporting great causes and “critical organizations” like United Hatzalah.
According to Gitty Beer, Eli’s wife, as of April 2, Eli’s situation is “stable, and he is still intubated and still sedated” to speed his recovery.
“We are hoping to hear good news in the next few days,” she told JNS.
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