It’s never fun having to go to the hospital.
And it’s not fun not to be sure if you have to go the hospital when you’re faced with a judgment call. Is that heartburn or a heart attack? Does that cut really need a stitch or would a bandage do?
The question gets more fraught if it’s Shabbat and you’re strictly observant. There’s no question about calling an ambulance or driving to the hospital if it’s a matter of life and death — but what if it’s not?
Now there’s a new option in town: A taxi service that will take you to a local hospital, not ask for payment, and even help you through electric doors once you get there.
It’s a project of Bikur Cholim Bergen County — a group whose name means “visiting the sick” but that offers a broader array of community support for local people facing health problems.
“In an emergency situation you have to call 911 or the local ambulance company,” stressed Batsheva Preil of Bergenfield, one of Bikur Cholim’s coordinators. “This is something for non-emergency situations, when you can wait a few minutes, like when you need stitches, are in early labor, or you are suffering from kidney stones.”
Thanks to Bikur Cholim, anyone who needs a non-urgent Shabbat or holiday ride to a local hospital can call Teaneck Taxi, say they’re calling for Bikur Cholim, and give Bikur Cholim’s phone number. (See box for details.) The service began around Passover, and has been called upon a few times since.
The exact question of when to use the service and when just to stay home Bikur Cholim’s organizers leave to your rabbinic advisor. They’re working with two Orthodox rabbis to come up with guidelines to put on their website.
Ms. Preil said the idea came from other communities that have such a service.
Bikur Cholim began decades ago, out of Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. Its initial focus was on the town’s Holy Name Hospital and Medical Center and Hackensack University Medical Center. In the past couple of years, the group has begun to serve as a central clearinghouse for various health-related chesed services in the area, including the bikur cholim volunteers working with the area’s hospitals.
Those services include rides, offered during the week to anyone who has to get to medical appointments in Bergen County; it is particularly useful for elderly patients who no longer can drive themselves. Other services are help in coordinating visitors to the lonely homebound and visiting with sick patients in the hospital.
Then there are medical equipment gemachs — organizations that lend wheelchairs and crutches and other medical supplies.
Bikur Cholim works with Hackensack University Medical Center and volunteers from Englewood who prepare rooms for people who need to stay over Shabbat as visitors. Unlike Holy Name and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Hackensack is not inside an eruv and therefore is less inherently convenient for the observant community.
“We want to make it easy for a consumer to go to one place and get their information,” Meredith Yager, another of the group’s leaders, said. Bikur Cholim recently set up a hotline — 201-579-3066 — that fields questions about kosher food availability at hospitals, how to arrange for rides, how to borrow medical equipment, and anything else. And it has centralized information at its website, bikurcholimbergencounty.org.
“The numerous calls to our hotline make us feel like we fill a niche,” Ms. Yager said.
One hotline call that stands out: A woman called to say her cousin was in Hackensack Hospital, on bedrest with a multiple pregnancy.
“We ended up following her for a few months,” Ms. Yager said. “She needed a lot of different supports. We visited her and brought her healthy meals. We helped her when her babies came.”
The group has more than 40 volunteers, but is always looking for more. (See box.) “We’re trying to build up a volunteer base,” Ms. Preil said. The biggest need is to drive sick or elderly people to doctor appointments. “We have lots of people who need trips,” she said. “If you’re around, it’s really a big chesed to help people out.”
Volunteers also visit the sick in hospitals and offer respite to caretakers.
Bikur Cholim Shabbat & holiday taxi service
Call Teaneck Taxi, (201) 907-0044
Say you are calling for Bikur Cholim Bergen County and give its telephone number: (201) 579-3066
Rides are available to Bergen County residents going to Englewood Hospital Medical Center, Hackensack University Medical Center, Holy Name Medical Center, and Valley Hospital.
Volunteer for Bikur Cholim
Bikur Cholim is always looking for more volunteers. You can sign up at bikurcholimbergencounty.org, email email@example.com, or call (201) 579-3066.