Hatzolah, for 35 years, would not accept government support, despite the real relief they bring to the New York City EMS system – they handle, free of charge, some 50 thousand calls a year, half of which end up in an ambulance trip to the hospital.
Last month, this group of 12 thousand volunteers, headed by CEO Rabbi David Cohen and President Heshy Jacob, decided to break with its time-honored fiscal tradition, and accept a one-time gift of $445 thousand from Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, to cover the cost of renovating their command center in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Weinstein was joined by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The grant will cover the expense of an upgrade to the emergency radio and telephone communication system, “Providing such excellent care comes at a price,” Weinstein said, adding that the improvement will give Hatzalah “the finest dispatching equipment available.”
Silver said that “with this upgrade, Hatzalah, which is already an outstanding model of coordination and efficiency, will be able to do even more for the communities that it serves.”
When Weinstein handed the oversized check to Rabbi Cohen and Mr. Jacob, she commented on the fact that some times these checks may be large in area surface but not in their amount. “This one is a big check that’s a big check,” she said.
“It’s important to understand that Hatzalah saves the government every year between ten and twenty million dollars,” said rabbi Cohen, pointing to the 50 thousand annual calls and 25 thousand annual ambulance trips Hatzalah provides, services which would have burdened the public coffers but “so far we haven’t billed anybody for anything.”
Heshy Jacob, who has been with Hatzalah since 1968, said the organization never ceases to amaze him in its capacity to grow and to innovate. He cited as an example a recent change in the running of the night shifts. “We realized that we were a little slower to respond than during the day,” which could prove critical in some cases. “During the day we get to a call in under four minutes, but when our volunteers are sleeping, it’s difficult to get to the call this quickly.”
The solution, according to Jacob, was for the night volunteers to stay up in their cars and remain mobile, so that when the call comes in they’re already in motion, and are able to get to the patient in two to three minutes.
Jacob was beaming with pride when he cited his organization’s record in handling cardiac events. He said the nation’s highest save rate for these cases was held by Washington State, where the schools teach CPR, and consequently, “their save rate is four percent, with a witnessed arrest. New York City’s rate is less than one percent. Our save rate exceeds fifteen percent.”