United Hatzalah responds to mass casualty incident

The United Hatzalah EMS psychotrauma unit responded to two major incidents over the course of 72 hours.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

The death toll from an earthquake that struck central Italy early Wednesday morning has ri
The death toll from an earthquake that struck central Italy early Wednesday morning has ri
United Hatzalah
The United Hatzalah Pyschotrauma Unit recently responded to two major incidents over the course of 72 hours. One of the incidents was considered, from a psychological standpoint, a mass casualty incident.
The unit's primary goal is to provide stabilization to people who are involved in a traumatic incident and are in a highly activated or agitated state.
In the first incident, the unit responded to a Jerusalem address where resuscitation was being performed on a newborn baby. The family called for an ambulance after the newborn was found unresponsive and the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma Unit was activated.
“The situation was a difficult one for us,” said Miriam Ballin, Director of the unit, “as neither of the parents spoke Hebrew we had to mobilize volunteers who spoke English. Thankfully, many of our volunteers are bilingual, some are even trilingual, so we were able to assist with translation".
“When we arrived the ambulance teams were taking the mother and baby to hospital. Just as we were about to leave the scene, we saw the family's other children arriving home from the park with their grandmother, unaware of what had ocurred” added Ballin.
“We talked to the kids and calmed them down. We went over with them what the police and ambulance were doing and we made sure that the children knew that this was just standard procedure and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Our being there helped stabilize them enough to be able to deal with the situation. They are really terrific kids who are well mannered, and they needed our help during this difficult time,” Zakuto concluded.
After calming the children, members of the psychotrauma unit helped the children go through their nightly routine. “We made sure that the children had dinner and helped them get to bed. When Social Services arrived on the scene the representative was very impressed by what she saw of our work. We handed the scene over to their team and they were very thankful for our presence. Social Services felt, that due to our help, that they did not need to disturb the scene once again, and left the area feeling inspired by our activities with plans to return the next morning for follow up,” Ballin added.
The second incident required an immense amount of resources and hard work from the unit. A call was received about a CPR in progress. A mother had unexpectedly suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at home, while her family were all present. Ballin described the team’s response to what became a large scale operation as a “mass casualty incident from a psychologically traumatic standpoint.”
“I called one of our volunteers who lived in the same building as the woman who was in need of resuscitation and he immediately went to help. As EMTs and paramedics arrived at the scene to resuscitate the woman, family members were in a highly agitated state which can make it difficult for the EMTs and paramedics to do their job,” explained Ballin.
Rickie Rabinowitz, a psychologist and team leader of the psychotrauma unit was among those who responded to the scene. She detailed the steps taken to stabilize the scene. “Our first volunteer arrived while the resuscitation was underway. He kept outsiders out and insiders in. This is a very important initial job as it cuts down the amount of unwanted attention given to the family by curious neighbours, and therefore alleviates tensions. A second volunteer arrived and began to sit with family members of the woman to help them organize their thoughts. This allowed the family members to make clear decisions after they begin the stabilization process.”
Rabinowitz made it clear how delicate the job of the psychotrauma unit is. “When dealing with people in a fragile or highly activated state of mind, we need to treat them gently. Our presence should be felt but not take over the scene,” she added. “Only three of us came with vests, the other volunteers who came wore only ID tags so that people would not get a sense of being overburdened by the unit.”
Unfortunately the mother was pronounced dead at the scene after intensive resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. Rabinowitz explained that the team's focus shifted toward the family's grieving process. “It was a very sad situation, but the family needed to grieve and then begin to face reality. We could tell from the family’s feeling of loss and the intensity of their grief she was very beloved to her family. One relative even fainted on scene and required treatment by our EMTs" she noted. "That is our place, right there, to be there for the family and to make sure that they feel supported until they can be supportive to one another.”

“People cycle through the stages of grief over and over. In the early stages people cannot be there to support themselves, let alone be there to support one another. We are there to be the supportive shoulder for people until they can support each other, and then we leave. It’s the nature of the family dynamic. A family will close ranks within itself as soon as people feel grounded. That is where we are trying to get people to, to a position of stabilization where they could be there for one another. Once they can get past the disbelief, anger, and sense if calamity they can take the sharpness of the pain out of the picture and be there for one another.”

“The point of the psychotrauma unit is to respond to those suffering a traumatic situation as soon as possible in order to support and stabilize the emotionally injured,” said Ballin. “Just because people are not physically bleeding does not mean that they are not injured by what has happened. Some scars we don’t see we only feel. Those are the ones that the psychotrauma unit is there to treat.”