What started out as a WhatsApp support group for ultra-Orthodox nurses has transformed into a volunteer hub of 1,400 men and women eager to help the 4,500 wounded men, women and children hospitalized across the nation.
Kol Israel Nurses Association (KIN) was set up last year by faculty members of Jerusalem College of Technology’s (JCT) Selma Jelinek School of Nursing Dr. Hila Videl, Netanel Foxbrumer and Avi Kirshberg, to help coordinate opportunities for students and graduates to spring into action in order to reinforce the country’s strained health care system. Most of the volunteers are students and graduates from JCT’s nursing school.
The initiative continues JCT’s decades-long contribution to the State of Israel. Hundreds of JCT students were drafted by the IDF, including 75 percent of JCT’s male nursing students. Many others are aiding the war effort in hospitals and through volunteering with Magen David Adom and United Hatzalah.
The effort is largely focused on getting volunteers where they are needed and on providing emergency nursing refresher courses for those medical professionals who have not handled trauma or shock patients in years.
Waves of nursing volunteers
“On the very first day of the war, we quickly mobilized numerous volunteers to support medical centers. This became crucial as many healthcare workers were unable to work due to the loss of family members and friends, coupled with the shock of the situation. Organizing this volunteer effort played a significant role in addressing this crisis,” explained Dr. Videl.
“Many of our students have already been called up for reserves,” Dr. Ahuva Spitz, head of JCT’s Selma Jelinek School of Nursing, added. “Some students volunteer with emergency response organizations and many others volunteer in hospitals across the country.”
The duration of the volunteer work differs based on one’s availability, Dr. Spitz explained, with some students volunteering a couple shifts a week and others working at hospitals around the clock. “The resilience on the home front and the sheer volume of volunteers who have stepped up to the plate to help has been tremendous,” she said.
JCT has charged staff members with working closely with a Ministry of Health hotline, where volunteers are needed the most. JCT then dispatches its students nationally, based on need.
One volunteer, Hana Garencia, a 21-year-old from Bnei Brak, is a third year JCT nursing student who has already volunteered five times at Sheba-Tel Hashomer Medical Center. There, Garencia has helped by taking up tasks generally completed by registered nurses. But during these times, they are far too busy, and the help is urgently needed.
“I changed sheets, served food and tea to patients. The medical teams cannot get to these needs due to the high patient volume,” shared Garencia. She added, “I felt that I was needed and useful. During a war, when so many people feel helpless, it felt good to provide meaningful and helpful care.”
Another nursing student, Odelya Ross from Jerusalem, is a volunteer with United Hatzalah, one of Israel’s emergency response organizations. She rushed down south with her team on October 7 where she worked frantically to help the wounded and save lives. Subsequently, she was conscripted into the National Medical Corps and is now serving on the Gaza border.
The WhatsApp group was originally established to give a platform to ultra-Orthodox nursing students. There, they share their experiences and express any halachic concerns (relating to Jewish religious law) that arise while they work. As the demand for nurses has swelled during the war, the WhatsApp group has been highly active in recent weeks.
Emergency nursing refresher courses
As the war began with massive civilian casualties many patients needed emergency medical care, which is only touched on during nursing school. Soon after the war started, Dr. Sharon Raymond, a general practitioner and director of the UK-based non-profit organization Crisis Rescue Foundation (CRF) reached out to aid JCT. The College, in partnership with CRF and working with KIN established both in-person and virtual emergency nursing refresher courses that focused on treating trauma.
Understanding that if the war expands to include massive rocket barrages from Hezbollah the situation will worsen, that training strengthened JCT nursing students and nurse graduates the ability to provide emergency care.
The Crisis Rescue Foundation provides vital health-related services and support in crisis situations in the U.K. and globally. To date, over 300 Selma Jelinek School of Nursing students and graduates have taken part in workshops to learn how to save lives outside of the traditional nursing environment.
“We train medical professionals to work in healthcare facilities but, unfortunately, this war broke out with the carnage in people’s homes. The war is in residential places and there are wounded people everywhere. We’re seeing massive bleeding, gunshot, and shrapnel wounds, and shock. Dr. Raymond gave us a crash course via zoom that was much appreciated,” Spitz said.
“As a doctor and director of CRF, it is my goal to ensure as many healthcare professionals as possible have the knowledge and skills to deliver emergency medical care and support for acute psychological trauma,” Raymond said. “We will help anyone struggling to access medical education, peer and wellbeing support due to war and other local crises.”
As for the crisis in Israel, Spitz said, “it will take months to help the wounded, not to mention the mental horror and trauma of their injuries. Right now, we’re in the midst of a crisis, so we’re not thinking about what’s next. I think the aftershock will hit us in a while.”
JCT is offering similar training courses to JCT staff and students and the public training them in basic life-saving skills. The goal is to offer these sessions in both Hebrew and English.
In addition, JCT will be offering training in emergency crisis intervention for those suffering psychological or emotional trauma. This will enable those casualties to receive emergency help to ease anxiety quickly and prevent the onset of PTSD.
Participants in both the critical care and crisis intervention workshops will receive robust personal first aid kits (similar to those carried by emergency medical technicians) equipping them with the essential tools necessary to care for a trauma victim outside a healthcare setting.
JCT has launched an Emergency Campaign to purchase these kits and to address urgent student needs such as stipends to help with emergencies and food vouchers for families of conscripted students. Meanwhile, JCT is currently hosting over 420 evacuees from educational institutions and several refugee families from the south.