Volunteer Responders



Leaders champion Israeli program to improve city’s emergency response time.

United Hatzalah volunteers in action in Israel

Waiting for emergency medical care can be frustrating and frightening because delayed treatment can have serious medical consequences. Detroiters have complained about slow emergency response time for years.

“A real crunch item is the response time for EMS,” says Mark Davidoff, Michigan managing partner for Deloitte in Downtown Detroit and chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has made emergency response time a priority since taking office. An expanded number of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and the purchase of additional ambulances have helped improve average response time from 20 minutes in 2014 to slightly more than 10 minutes in mid-February 2016. The average national response time is 8 minutes.

Davidoff, former COO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit before joining Deloitte, led a group of Michigan legislators on a trip to Israel in 2013 where their itinerary included United Hatzalah, a community-based volunteer medical response organization. United Hatzalah provides free on-site emergency care to people of all backgrounds 24 hours a day throughout the year. The organization began in 1989 and now supplements emergency responders throughout Israel.

“Our 3,000 volunteers handled 270,000 emergency responses last year,” explained Dovi Maisel, United Hatzalah vice president/director of international operations.

Mark Davidoff

The idea of volunteer support for Detroit’s EMS resonated with Davidoff, who organized a Michigan CEO trip to Israel in November 2015. The 20 business executives were there to explore Israel’s business climate, seeking ways to enhance economic development in Detroit and Michigan. In addition to meetings with government, business and technology representatives, they also met Hatzalah staff and “thought the program was fantastic,” Davidoff said.
Volunteers On Call

Hatzalah volunteers, who include Orthodox and secular Jews, as well as Christian and Muslim Israelis, receive extensive training in emergency medical care.

Volunteers usually arrive at emergencies on special “ambucycles” — specially equipped motorcycles with extensive first aid kits. The motorcycles navigate traffic more easily than cars or ambulances.

Maisel says volunteers arrive on the scene within three to five minutes, performing CPR or whatever is necessary to stabilize the person until the official responders arrive. Hatzalah and its volunteers use a GPS smartphone application that pinpoints their location and notifies them of nearby emergencies immediately. They can choose to accept the call or not — similar to Uber, the freelance taxi service.

The Michigan business leaders group, which included chief executives of the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System, thought the Hatzalah model might help Detroit. Hatzalah is not new to the U.S. — a pilot begun last year in Jersey City, N.J., has had positive results.

Dovi Maisel

The CEO group engaged Hatzalah staff to evaluate whether their volunteer emergency response model could work in Detroit. A steering committee, composed of a broad coalition of private and public organizations, was set up to guide the effort. Study costs are being covered by donations from the Jewish and general communities.

A first step was a trip to Detroit for Maisel and United Hatzalah’s implementation executive, Shai Jaksoll, to meet with Detroit police and fire officials, health organizations, community and church groups, and others. They assessed the interest for a pilot project of trained medical volunteers in Detroit.

“This is not about replacing EMS, but helping to improve emergency response with a community-based buffer,” Davidoff said. In a city with a strong union heritage, he says, no one wants the city’s EMTs and firemen to think that volunteers will take their jobs.

Instead, the goal is to provide “faster, better service to augment the proud EMS force in Detroit,” said John Deledda, M.D., chair of emergency medicine at Henry Ford Health System, who serves on the steering committee.

Maisel and Jaksoll are encouraged by the positive response of Detroiters and believe that recruiting volunteers would not be a problem.

Shai Jaksoll
Shai Jaksoll

“We want to cooperate with other volunteer organizations,” Jaksoll said. In Jersey City, 700 individuals applied for 50 positions for a pilot project.”

The goal is to develop a pilot project action plan for Mayor Duggan’s review within about four months. One consideration is likely to be how this program will be viewed by city and hospital unions.

Another issue is “how we keep our volunteers safe,” said Deledda, referring to incidents of violence against EMTs and firemen in some Detroit neighborhoods. He thinks the pilot program will need to be located in the city’s safer neighborhoods where violence is less prevalent.

“Nancy [Schlichting, Henry Ford Health System’s CEO] is behind this,” said Deledda, who is enthused about developing a model system that would work in Detroit.

“It’s not practical to put an ambulance on every street, but is reasonable to have a volunteer on every street,” Jaksoll said.

 By Shari S. Cohen | Contributing Writer


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