Israel began its second wave of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic back in July as the number of people infected with the virus began to drastically rise once again. After reaching a meteoric rise in September, with nearly 10,000 people being infected with the disease per day, the numbers began to decline in October after a month-long lockdown was enforced on the general public by the government that began on Rosh Hashanah and is slowly being lifted only now.
United Hatzalah as an organization met the challenges faced by the second wave of the Coronavirus in Israel and the resulting lockdown in a variety of ways.
United Hatzalah Providing Free Ambulance Service To Corona Patients:
United Hatzalah ambulances awaiting corona patients to transfer
Israel’s Home Front Command, who had been tasked with combating the spread of the disease within the population, asked United Hatzalah to begin transporting patients in moderate or light condition from their homes and hospitals to the specially equipped Corona hotels where the patients could recover in comfort, without risk of infecting their family members and without overloading the hospital system. The patient transfers began in April and increased at a rapid rate as the Corona Hotels became more necessary. Between July and October, United Hatzalah’s fleet of ambulances and volunteer drivers and teams transported more than 10,000 people to and from these hotels. As the lockdown came to a close in October and the number of infected people dropped dramatically, the hotels have been shut down by the Home Front Command, resulting in the end of the project on October 15th.
One of the ambulance driver volunteers from the Tel Aviv region, Dvir Adani, made more than 100 trips to and from Corona hotels all over the country. “I try to make the passengers feel comfortable during their trip. They are already suffering from the virus so I try to do what I can to cheer them up. I am good at connecting with people and I have a pretty good feel for how to make a person feel more comfortable even in tough situations. Just yesterday, I was transporting a young Ultra-Orthodox man to a Corona hotel,” Dvir said in an interview in early October. “When he saw my colorful hair and overall demeanor, he grew shy and distant. Then I began to discuss Gemara with him. That was my education growing up and I am very fond of it, and he immediately loosened up. By the end of the drive, we parted ways as friends.”
Ambulances after transporting patients to a Corona Hotel in Jerusalem
Providing Medical Response Inside The Corona Hotels:
Over the course of the Holiday season in Israel, the Corona hotels became overcrowded as the number of cases rose as did the number of people requiring a place to recover. To alleviate the medical needs of those staying at the hotels the Home Front Command Once again turned to United Hatzalah for the answer.
UH volunteer brings an oxygen tank and medical supplies to a Corona Hotel
The two organizations set up a special project for Yom Kippur that saw dozens of emergency first responders from the EMS organization stay at the Corona hotels over the holidays. The volunteers were stationed at most of the Corona hotels across the country were tasked with providing emergency medical care to anyone who requires their assistance at the hotels. As Yom Kippur is the most important fast day of the year, most of the population, including many who were sick with Corona, fasted and thus were more susceptible to falling ill. Many of the volunteers were responding to medical calls throughout the day related to the fast or complications with Corona, or even accidents that occurred inside the hotels.
UH volunteer outside the Kinar hotel
Some of the EMS first responders, who were already “guests” in quarantine at the hotels having contracted the disease themselves and wishing to still help their fellow patients, spent their days assisting those in need. Other volunteers who were healthy stayed in “green” sections of the hotels and entered the hotel when there was an emergency wearing full protective gear so as not to risk infection while treating the patient inside. The organization provided all of the volunteers with full PPE (personal protective equipment) suits and medical equipment as well as ambulance transport for those requiring evacuation to the hospital.
One example of this was United Hatzalah EMT Yosef Rimmel who resided at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, where 950 Corona patients were residing for Yom Kippur. Over the course of the holiday, Yossi treated 15 people who were feeling ill or suffered accidents over the course of the fast.
Yosef Rimmel outside of the Crown Plaza Hotel
Elkana Breuer Incident At Ma’aleh HaHamisha Corona Hotel:
Another incident took place when United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Elkana Breuer fell ill on Rosh Hashanah after contracting Corona. He and his family chose to recover at the Ma’aleh Hamisha Corona Hotel. Since he began his stay and until the end of the Sukkot holiday, Elkana has not stopped responding to medical emergencies of other residents inside the hotel who require medical aid while simultaneously helping them find joy during their stay.
Elkana Breuer, a resident of Beitar Illit, works as a singer and keyboardist and teaches in an elementary school. “I have been called upon to provide medical treatment to many people here at the hotel who have little or no other resource for medical attention.”
Having the disease himself meant the Breuer was free to treat any of the ill patients at the hospital. To some who were suffering from severe respiratory problems related to the virus he provided oxygen and first aid care and then called for an ambulance to transport them to a hospital in Jerusalem.
“I treat about 10 cases or more each day. Whether it is people who trip down the stairs, suffer broken bones, shortness of breath related to Covid or other diseases, I am pretty much responding to a call all the time. There was an incident with an infant that stuck a bead up her nose and I instructed the parents not to try and pull it out but rather go to the hospital to have it removed properly. In another incident, someone had a severe allergic reaction to some dairy that they mistakenly consumed. They also had to go to the hospital. The majority of the work comes down to reassuring people and identifying which cases are urgent and need to go to the hospital and which are not and can be treated here.”
Breuer said that there is a doctor that comes to the hotel daily for a few hours at a time but getting an appointment is difficult and oftentimes, emergencies happen when the doctor is not on the premises. “Being here has really given the other occupants a sense of comfort that in the case of an emergency there is someone here who can help them. I’m happy to do it, but it has certainly not been a restful stay for me here,” Breuer quipped.
Not all of the instances of Breuer’s help were medical. On Saturday night, Breuer led the occupants of the hotel in a special musical event for Hakafot Shniyot the night after Simchat Torah. During the festivities, one of the mothers gave her son his first haircut, a special celebratory occasion for a child who turns three according to Chassidic tradition. In a similar event, Breuer led a special celebration in honor of one of the young men finishing a tractate of Talmud on the intermediary days of Sukkot at a Simchat Beit Hashoeva party in which he also sang for the occupants.
“All of us who were here for the holidays banded together and worked hard to celebrate the joy that the holidays bring. We have to focus on the good in life in spite of the illness. There is always good, and there is always joy. We just need to find it and focus on it. Helping people brings joy. Culminating life-cycle events and maintaining traditions brings joy. Even here, amid so many people who are suffering from the disease, we must all realize that we are healing and we will live through this. So in the meantime, we must utilize the opportunity we have to help others and bring joy to others. It’s a bit of light amid the darkness and it is so important.”
Corona Testing in Partnership With Maccabi, Leumit, Various Hospitals and Licensed Laboratories
United Hatzalah EMT Ibrahim Ayouti testing a Maccabi patient for Corona
Towards the end of April, United Hatzalah began working with numerous health organizations and laboratories to conduct Covid-19 Coronavirus testing on segments of the population who were clients of those organizations in order to help facilitate the national project of testing members of the population who potentially had contracted the virus. Through partnerships with the HMOs of Maccabi and Leumit as well as various hospitals such as Hadassah Ein Kerem, Rambam hospital, Assaf Harofeh/Yitzhak Shamir Hospital, and various other hospitals, medical centers, and laboratories across Israel, United Hatzalah undertook more than 3,000 tests per day. These tests took place either at the medical centers, at public testing centers, and specially set up booths for testing possible covid-19 patients, and at people’s homes. More than 150 volunteers undertook the project as full or part-time employment and were paid by the organization to conduct these tests and assist the national effort to test as many potential patients in the populace as possible. Since the beginning of the project, United Hatzalah volunteers have conducted more than half-a-million tests thus far.
United Hatzalah’s Vice President Lazar Hyman said that “Each of the volunteers who wished to participate in the testing process, was required to undergo specialized training on a number of levels. The training included learning how to administer the test, and how to properly dress and wear the personal protective equipment so as not to risk infecting themselves, learning how to properly package and transport the test so that it stayed sterile and was received by the appropriate laboratory in accordance with the law and without being ruined.
Photo Credit: Abir Sultan EPA
“The tests took place either at drive-in centers, walk-up centers, or even at the homes of the patients themselves. If the tests were administered at home, then UH volunteers arrived at the patient’s home, got into full protective gear, and administered the test. They were then required to immediately take the test back to the lab. We provided this service for patients of the labs or the HMOs that we worked with in order to help combat the spread of the infection.”
Financial Aid Hotline With HaTzinor
UH Volunteer hand-delivering a gift card containing between 1,000 – 5,000 NIS
Toward the end of August, Israeli journalist Guy Lerer, from channel 13’s HaTzinor television program, spearheaded a campaign to assist those in financial need as a result of the Coronavirus economic crisis. Utilizing money that was donated by people who received the government’s Covid-19 stipend and chose to donate it to the cause, Lerer raised 15,000,000 NIS and distributed it to people in dire financial straits before the holidays and the second lockdown.
In order to fulfill this mission, Lerer and HaTzinor teamed up with United Hatzalah of Israel and Pitchon Lev and created a humanitarian dispatch center where those wishing to donate their stipends or those in need of assistance, called in and spoke to a volunteer who helped them go through the process of qualifying for financial aid.
United Hatzalah volunteers heading out to hand-deliver financial aid gift cards
After calling the hotline, the callers, whose information is kept confidential, will be asked a number of questions to explain what their need is and what the money will be used for, Grants ranged from 1,000 NIS to 5,000 NIS based on need. The money was transferred to people via gift cards that can be used at a variety of stores, or via direct bank transfers if the assistance required was to pay bills. The process took a few days from the time that the call for assistance was received. In urgent cases, gift cards were hand-delivered by a team of more than 100 United Hatzalah volunteers.
United Hatzalah established a new dispatch center in order to field the calls coming from all over Israel of people requesting financial aid. 20 people worked the dispatch and fielded the incoming calls. More than 100 volunteers were engaged in delivering gift cards and financial aid to those who needed it around the country. The project lasted for a month leading up to the Holidays and prior to the country’s second lockdown.
United Hatzalah’s Humanitarian dispatchRegular activities under threat of Covid-19
During the entire period of the Coronavirus pandemic United Hatzalah volunteers continued responding to regular medical emergencies As any medical emergency could also be a case where the patient or a family member present could have Covid-19 or be in isolation after having been exposed to a person with Coid-19, each and every medical volunteer across the country had to have personal protective equipment (PPE) with them whenever they went to a medical response call that had a possibility of Covid-19 interaction.
United Hatzalah volunteer delivering food
In an effort to protect the health of the volunteers who make up the backbone of the organization, United Hatzalah’s Health Department was tasked with continually updating and re-issuing protocols and regulations to all of its volunteers on a regular basis in order to comply with new regulations coming from the Health Ministry. The level of infection suffered by the first responders in the organization was very low during the first wave of the virus but rose slightly during the second wave due to the increased morbidity rate. Proportionally, the infection rate was still very low when compared with the general population. Out of 6,000+ active medical volunteers, slightly more than 200 contracted the virus, and most of those who contracted the virus caught it from friends, neighbors, or their children via their schools, and not from responding to medical emergencies.
Vice President of Operations for United Hatzalah Dov Maisel said that this spoke to the special care taken by the organization to protect its responders. “The number of our medical responses didn’t diminish significantly and the fact that only a small percentage of volunteers contracted the disease, and most of them caught it from their own communities and not while responding to medical emergencies, shows how well the safety precautions taken by the organization worked. Every volunteer needed to apply a facemask to themselves and the patient in order to protect all those present, regardless of the emergency, as well as carry a PPE suit with them to all emergencies, just in case there was a person present who was infected or was in isolation. Additionally, volunteers are instructed, repeatedly, to ask the patient before they entered the house whether or not someone was in isolation or ill with the virus, and if so they had to wear full protective gear. Trainees, as well as volunteers over the age of 60 and volunteers with chronic illnesses, were suspended from responding during the peaks of the first and second wave of the virus and only one volunteer may enter a scene until that scene is deemed safe. Only then can additional volunteers enter the scene of an emergency so that we don’t risk a massive outbreak in one community These regulations fluctuated with the seriousness of the level of infection and in accordance with the guidelines of the Health Ministry. The dynamic instructions provided to the first responders successfully lessened the risk to the first responders of contracting the disease themselves.”
One story that illustrates this point took place early Sunday evening towards the beginning of October. The incident occurred just after 5:00 p.m. when an 11-year-old girl was playing on a backyard trampoline in her home, located in the town of Karnei Shomron. The child was bouncing around with her siblings when she got off the trampoline and suddenly collapsed to the ground. The child’s mother noticed her unconscious and frantically called United Hatzalah’s Dispatch and Command Center.
Two United Hatzalah EMT volunteers, who wish to remain anonymous, were the first to arrive on the scene. It took them less than 90 seconds to arrive at the girl’s side and begin treatment. The first responders quickly checked the unconscious child’s vital signs and then attached a defibrillator and began performing CPR. The defibrillator recommended admitting a shock. The EMT’s paused compressions and administered two shocks to the still unconscious girl.
After the second shock, a United Hatzalah paramedic and doctor arrived as did a mobile intensive care ambulance (MICU) team. The paramedic was Oren Adi. The child’s mother told Adi that the girl has a history of heart problems, which immediately raised a red flag and caused the first responders to question whether this was a case of an injury or a recurring health issue. Adi attached a cardiac monitor with the help of the team from the MICU and was surprised to find that the victim had a pulse.
Unconscious and breathing, the 11-year-old was transferred to the nearest hospital, showing positive signs. As the ambulance and the medical crew cleared the scene, the operational head of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, Hadas Rucham arrived at the house to provide assistance to the traumatized father and four children. Hadas spoke to the father, calming him down after the accident that had just unfolded before him, and suggested that he be driven to the hospital to meet his wife and child, while a neighbor looks after the rest of the children. She then turned to the eldest boy, a 9-year-old, and helped him sort through his emotions as he also witnessed his sister’s collapse.
United Hatzalah volunteer after delivering a baby
At the hospital, the doctors were struggling to discover the origin of the incident and decided that they needed information from the defibrillator that the first responders used on the girl, which was still in Karnei Shomron. A nearby volunteer ambucycle driver, Yehuda Haas, was alerted and asked to transfer the defibrillator to a United Hatzalah Employee who could download the data from the defibrillator. Yehuda raced on his ambucycle to Petah Tikva to deliver the defibrillator. After successfully downloading the data, it was sent to the medical staff in the hospital. With the information provided by the defibrillator, it was later concluded that the cause of the accident was indeed a heart problem and not an injury.
“There’s something special about seeing everyone working together harmoniously to save the girl’s life.” Adi commented. “Between the two first responders, the doctors, the MICU members, Hadas from the Psychotrauma Unit, Yehuda delivering the defibrillator and the man who downloaded the data, we were a full team of medical personnel, all providing medical care and working together to do so. This participation and togetherness are heartwarming. All the volunteers were devoted to their work and we ended up saving a life.”
Adi and the crew were later informed that night that the mother of the 11-year-old girl tested positive for Covid-19, causing all the medical personnel involved to quarantine immediately.
“The beautiful thing about volunteering is that if we would have known that the victim’s parent was a Coronavirus patient, that would not prevent us from doing everything necessary to help her,” Adi added. “As a United Hatzalah volunteer, I know what is right and what I have to do, no matter the possible risk. We saved a life that day, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, even knowing the risk.”
To support United Hatzalah’s efforts in the fight against Covid-19 please click here: https://israelrescue.org/coronaresponse