A new volunteer has joined the ranks of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, only this one has four legs. Toffy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed known around the world for excelling as therapy dogs, has gone
Emotional injuries, just like physical injuries, cannot be left untreated.
United Hatzalah of Israel's Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit is taking EMS care to the next level
Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit
The Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit’s mission is to enhance the lifesaving efforts of United Hatzalah, the largest, fastest, non-profit, fully volunteer, and free Emergency Medical Services organization in Israel. The Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit addresses the emotional needs of family members, witnesses, and bystanders during and after traumatic situations.
The unit is determined to provide emotional support and stabilization for any civilian who needs it across the country as well as for United Hatzalah medics after being exposed to traumatic calls. The unit trains mental health professionals who volunteer alongside United Hatzalah medics in the field.
Filling a Void
In 2016, United Hatzalah established the revolutionary Psychotrauma Unit which consists of trained volunteers who can provide emotional stabilization support at the scene of traumatic medical emergencies such as terror attacks, Mass Casulty Incidents (MCI’s), rocket attacks and the like. In addition to emergency medical treatment, this unit provides Israel’s people with psychological first aid on scene, and thereby prevent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in addition to urgent medical relief.
The Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit was created out of need. At a medically traumatic scene or crisis, the physical needs were being met but the bystanders, the family, and the people that were not injured in the situation, were left to fend for themselves after experiencing an extremely difficult situation.
While EMTs and paramedics are highly trained to treat physical injuries, they have limited or no training on how to deal with traumatized, disoriented, or highly agitated people in the chaos of an emergency. United Hatzalah established the Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit to address and correct this situation.
The unit is unique in its commitment to arrive to the scene within minutes to provide emotional stabilization treatment, enabling the victim to cope emotionally with the situation in real time. Once there, our responders identify the traumatized victims and witnesses, and provide clinically tested emotional stabilization treatment as needed. They also engage family members and bystanders to provide information about where to turn to for community support or further psychological assistance before leaving the scene. Psychological First Aid administered during or immediately following the trauma has been shown to be effective in preventing the onset of PTSD.
When the unit’s intervention is needed, United Hatzalah’s dispatchers use a GPS-based dispatch and communications system to notify the closest and most appropriate responders, who immediately spring into action. The range of scenarios that our psychotrauma team respond to is diverse, from mass-casualty incidents, such as terror attacks, to intensely private tragedies, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS or “crib death”) or suicide. At the scene, volunteers are often met with hysteria, trauma and shock from patients, family members and bystanders. At United Hatzalah we understand that just like physical injuries, emotional injuries must be treated in real time.
The Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit offers a brief training course to outside organizations, groups, corporations and businesses on psychological first aid. Our unit has been asked to run one-time courses for IDF sanctions, groups in the police force and even for a local squad of firemen. For more details contact Avi at [email protected].
Aid for UH Medics & Debriefings
“Kindness starts at home,” states the age-old saying. For the Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit, this is a core value. United Hatzalah comprises 6,200 medics and that number is constantly rising. Quite often, our very own medics experience emotionally-taxing calls and walk away from a scene with emotions and feelings that they do not know how to process. Our unit assists our medics in dealing with what they witnessed or were involved in either with 1:1 “sessions” or in group settings.
Dog K9 Unit
The Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit started a K9 Unit which, as of today, includes one very special puppy named Lucy. Lucy, the orange-vest-wearing psychotrauma dog, has assisted people in crises on numerous occasions by helping bystanders and family members move away from the traumatic scene by “following” the dog. When there is a medical crisis, the first step that needs to take place is the removal of the individuals from the scene. The dog plays an important role in helping our responders remove individuals from the situation. Once the person or people are removed, they many times become distracted by and calmed down simply by focusing on the dog, thereby immediately lessening the immediate stress.
Read about Lucy in Surfside, Florida: The beauty of humanity brought out by a therapy dog in Surfside.
In August 2017, when Hurricane Irma hit, United Hatzalah sent a rescue team from Israel composed of 6 rescue and 3 Psychotrauma & Crisis Response Unit volunteers. They first went to Atlanta and drove hours through destruction and made their way all away to Savannah, Miami, Naples and the Florida Keys. They helped in every way possible whether it was assisting people move their things, receiving food and drink or helping victims of the flooding with their trauma. Watch this story on Fox 5 news.
Less than a month later, in September 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. We immediately sent 5 volunteers helping with disaster relief and post trauma care from our Psychotrauma Unit. Our EMTS and therapists created trauma relief workshops for children and had many meaningful encounters helping the people deal with the catastrophe.
On October 27, 2018, during Saturday prayers, 11 people were murdered in cold blood in the Tree of Life synagogue, the Squirrel Hill neighborhoodo of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our psychotrauma unit worked day and night with the congregants and the neighborhood at large trying to help with the severe trauma. Our volunteers talked in the schools and the JCC to work with the kids and helped anyone who needed support after their safety was deeply compromised and violated.
On Thursday, June 24, 2021, a building (the Champlain Towers), which was a 12-story beachfront condominium in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida, collapsed. Hundreds of people were trapped for days and ninety-eight people died. Our team brought emotional stabilization to the families, the community centers, and the first responders searching for survivors on the premises. Our professionally trained team helped the community and family members deal with the deep trauma and pain they were experiencing. On this delegation, the Psychotrauma Unit’s trauma-trained dog, Lucy, helped numerous people open up and break down with tears; the dog was a significant player in helping people heal.
We also have a hot-line for our volunteers where they can call or send a message regarding themselves or colleagues that need assistance or are going through a hard time and need psychotrauma’s unit to help them after a difficult call.
From February-April 2022, we sent dozens of Psychotrauma volunteers to Moldova to help Ukrainian refugees. Our EMTS and therapists helped with the trauma relief for mothers, their children and the elderly who were kicked out of their homes, left their husbands and fathers, and arrived at the border empty handed after days of traveling in the freezing cold.
The goal was to help people deal with the trauma they were facing. 25,000+ refugees were provided with medical care and emotional/humanitarian aid.
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This article was written by Rebecca Stadlen Amir first appeared in Israel21C United Hatzalah of Israel is sending a delegation of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to Johannesburg, South Africa, to train their counterparts in providing effective psychotrauma care in times of
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