High tech, human passion, Israeli lifesaving

High tech, human passion, Israeli lifesaving

Motorcycles are specially rigged to hold volunteers’ gear.

Minutes matter. When it comes to saving lives, even seconds matter.

When they face a medical emergency, people call 911, and an ambulance is dispatched immediately. That system indisputably saves lives. But the EMT technicians inside those ambulances must negotiate snarled traffic, dangerous intersections, careless pedestrians, callous drivers, and other road hazards. Valuable minutes are lost.

What to do?

In Jersey City, Mayor Steven Fulop has a solution – and it comes straight from Israel.

The city is joining forces with United Hatzalah and the Jersey City Medical Center – Barnabas Health to form Community Based Emergency Care. That is a bland name for a clever new program aimed at bridging the gap between the time that an emergency is called in and when the cavalry – the EMTs and their ambulance full of equipment – can show up. It will use a combination of human passion and goodwill and technology to meet that goal.

Basically, the program will either train and certify or simply certify volunteers who can provide emergency care. Barnabas offers a free 60-hour course to people who have no medical background, and will test and certify students who pass it, while doctors, EMTs, firefighters, and other people with similar backgrounds can waive in and be certified. The volunteers will be given ambulatory life-saving equipment, and they will be covered by Barnabas’s insurance and New Jersey’s Good Samaritan laws.

That’s the human part.

The high-tech part is the phone app, tied to the city’s 911 system, which automatically will alert the person who could be at the scene soonest.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, that someone has a heart attack on the 10th floor of a building. Or that she’s choking. Or having a stroke. There might be a doctor living on the 15th floor, who might or might not hear the commotion, might or might not respond, just in case.”

With the phone app, though, that hypothetical doctor, who is just one elevator ride away, would be alerted to the emergency immediately and jump into action.

“You never know who is in the building now who could help,” Mr. Fulop said. “You just never know.”

Talking from his car, he pointed out that he was passing by a friend’s house just then. She’s a doctor. “If there was an emergency now, she’d never know – but if she did know, she’d 100 percent walk to get there,” he said.

Jersey City is perfect for this kind of technology because it is so dense, but it already is well served by its 911 service, Mayor Fulop said. “Right now, we are rated the top EMS in the country, with the fastest response time. It takes a little more than five minutes” for an ambulance to arrive. Still, it is possible to do better, and that will save lives. “In theory, the response time with this new technology” – CBEC – “is two minutes.

“In these kinds of situations, it’s not minutes that matter. It’s seconds. The goal is that when EMTs get there, you are handing off to them someone who already has received some care.

“It’s the same kind of technology that Uber and airbnb use, that has disrupted existing ways of doing business,” he added.

The program has just been launched. One hundred volunteers have signed up – the goal is 200 – and the plan is to get them trained by February and at work by early summer.

“It is entirely funded by philanthropic dollars,” Mr. Fulop said. “We were brought the idea by Mark Gerson,” the Manhattan-based entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist who chairs United Hatzalah. “And it highlights what an innovator Israel is; how it is technologically great.”

“We’ve been working in Israel for the last eight or nine years, and we had over a quarter of a million calls last year,” Mr. Gerson said. Jersey City will be United Hatzalah’s first U.S. adopter. Preliminary work on establishing it is now underway in Chicago and Boston as well. “We’d love other cities to adopt it,” Mr. Gerson said.

There are as many stories of CBEC’s success as there are patients, but when asked to tell one, Mr. Gerson detailed a series of events that unfolded last month, when he was in Haifa, and that had percolated on the Internet. “A parent had called 101″ – the Israeli 911 equivalent – “and a United Hatzalah volunteer happened to be two doors down.

“The father ran toward the volunteer, holding his five-year-old child, who was choking on a balloon.

“The child was unconscious. Death was a minute or so away. If he had waited for an ambulance it was a 100 percent chance that the child would be dead.

“The volunteer tried CPR. It didn’t work. But he was able to push the balloon down the child’s lungs, and that saved his life. He’s fine now.

“There is a video of the volunteer and the father standing over the child’s bed in the hospital, crying uncontrollably. They couldn’t stop crying.”

Although the volunteer and the child lived so close to each other, they never had met. Now they are bonded for life.

That was in Israel. In Jersey City last week, “I met some of the first people to sign up on the website,” Mr. Gerson said. “It was a retired Jersey City police lieutenant and his wife, who is a nurse.

“He used to work doing security at the Holland Tunnel, and a few years ago, his best friend died of a heart attack. It was during a snowstorm. Someone called 911, but it took 20 to 25 minutes for the ambulance to get there. His friend died.

“Now this couple both already are trained in CPR, and they have a defibrillator in their house. They could start right away. In a heart attack, you have about four minutes. And if they had been in the system, they could have been in their friend’s house in two minutes.”

As in Israel, volunteers can get to victims on foot, by elevator, car, or specially equipped motorcycles or bicycles. “Hatzalah” means “rescue.” There are many organizations that use the word; they are loosely affiliated at most, but all save lives (and their mission demands that they save all lives, not just Jews’). United Hatzalah, Israel’s version, was founded by Eli Beer, whose impassioned explanation of how he came to dedicate his life to that work, delivered as a TED Talk, is online at www.ted.com/speakers/eli_beer.

Because CBEC depends on the local 911 system, it can be only as big as that system. In New Jersey, each municipality has its own 911 system; in Israel, the system is countrywide, and so is United Hatzalah’s coverage. Because of the vagaries of New Jersey’s home-rule system, Jersey City’s CBEC will not work outside its borders, although people who work in Jersey City but live elsewhere are welcome to volunteer.

More information on Jersey City’s CBEC, including links for volunteering and donating, is available on its website, unitedrescue.us.

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