On Wednesday morning during a meeting of the Knesset's Health Committee, the discussion was raised as to why there is no unified emergency number in Israel.
Currently, if a person would like to receive emergency service help, there are separate numbers for the police, 100 and 110, for the Magen David Adom ambulance service 101, for the Fire Department 102, for the electric company 103, for city services 106 in most places, and for United Hatzalah 1221, as well as many others.
The multiplicity of emergency numbers to dial during an emergency can cause a lot of confusion for a person who in the midst of a stressful situation must try to remember and dial the correct emergency service. Sadly, not all information is passed from these unique emergency dispatches to the others, and first responders from one group may show up while the others will be delayed or not come at all due to not receiving notification about the emergency.
Director of Emergency and Rescue Services at the Ministry of Health, Yair Hevroni, told the committee that currently there is no continuous supervision by the Ministry of Health over the operation and collaboration of the national dispatch center for emergency medical service (EMS) volunteers, whose goal it is coordinate between volunteers of United Hatzalah and their Magen David Adom (MDA) counterparts, and that the dispatch service is controlled by MDA.
In 2017, an agreement was reached by the Health Ministry with both organizations stating the MDA would share all of the information with regard to medical emergencies in Israel with United Hatzalah and with the five closest EMS responders in the area regardless of organizational affiliation. This has not yet come to pass.
The Knesset's Health Committee, chaired by MK Idit Silman (Yamina), asked Hevroni whether there is full cooperation by MDA, which oversees the operation of the mobile dispatching application which is supposed to alert first responders from both organizations to medical emergencies.
Hevroni admitted that "there is no full cooperation." In addition, he said regarding the supervision and control of MDA's activities that "the report (from MDA to the Ministry of Health) does not go through once a month as was previously mandated."
When Hevroni was asked by MK Silman when the last meeting of the Monitoring Committee on Cooperation took place, Hevroni replied, "More than a year ago."
Hevroni then added: "We would like all of United Hatzalah’s volunteers to be connected to the mobile app run by MDA - but in practice, this is not taking place. We definitely intend to make sure that MDA connects additional volunteers from United Hatzalah to the emergency alert application."
MK Yinon Azulai (Shas) said during the committee meeting, "It may be that the Ministry of Health is not providing enough supervision. If there was an external body that would be tasked with operating the emergency application for volunteer first responders, and not MDA - things would look different. We are asking for one simple thing - that the Ministry of Health supervises the app and that all information is transferred to the United Hatzalah volunteers."
MK Idit Silman then asked: "Why don’t we have one emergency dispatch center in Israel for all organizations so that everyone would be able to receive the information immediately - why do we need all kinds of agreements between MDA and United Hatzalah instead of having the State of Israel take responsibility for an emergency dispatch center that will pass the information to all first responders who have been authorized by the Health Ministry to provide medical care? In the end, it is the citizens who pay the price."
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Jdaism) responded and said, "I proposed that there be a unification of the emergency phone lines. The bill passed its first reading. However, MDA fought against it and to this day I do not understand why. The proposed bill states that there will be a unified number. A person in distress cannot remember all sorts of different numbers to all the emergency dispatch centers. We need one dispatch center to be the dispatch center for the country."
MK Michal Woldiger (Religious Zionism) told the committee, "Common sense dictates that there should only be one emergency dispatch and one number. None of the clauses in MDA's agreement with United Hatzalah have been fulfilled. These are procedures that have been written in blood. There is a procedure here that needs to be followed and enforced and it is not being fulfilled. We need to pass judgment as to why. Unfortunately, there is no single dispatch center that passes all of the information to all first responders."
MK Moshe Gafni then asked the committee, "Why is the information not being passed to United Hatzalah? This bothers me a lot."
MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) told the committee, "It is time to strengthen the initiative of a joint dispatching center. What is good for other countries is good for us too. We have not heard reasonable in-depth reasons as to why this isn’t good for us. United Hatzalah is the leading organization in size with thousands of volunteer first responders who rush out to save lives from all segments of the population. A network of volunteers that is so professional and is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. It is the place of the Knesset to intervene and promote the establishment of a single dispatch center that will pass the information to all first responders."
It wasn’t just Knesset members who spoke about the value of a unified emergency medical dispatch and unified emergency number: Interested citizens who attended the meeting also spoke up in favor of a single dispatch center and said that if there had been such a thing in the past it would have saved their son.
Yossi Bernstein and his wife told the committee about their son who, throughout his life was a normative child, but has now become disabled because he choked and suffered a lack of oxygen waiting for an ambulance to arrive. At the time there were United Hatzalah volunteers on the street who weren’t given the information as to the whereabouts of the emergency by MDA, causing a delayed response.
Yossi told the committee: "Our child was injured as a result of MDA's lack of communication with United Hatzalah. The daycare teacher called MDA and told them that our child had choked. It took them ten minutes to arrive. The information about the emergency wasn’t sent to United Hatzalah in its entirety and therefore they didn’t come to save my son. This is in spite of the incident occurring in the Makor Baruch neighborhood of Jerusalem where there are a lot of United Hatzalah volunteers."
"I later asked volunteers from United Hatzalah why they didn’t come and they told me that they never received the address for the emergency, only the street name. One of the volunteers from United Hatzalah drove up and down the street looking for the address because he didn’t receive the information from MDA."
The claim arose in the committee meeting that a medical emergency gets sent only to five responders in order to prevent a multitude of volunteers responding to the emergency. Yossi Bernstein responded to this and said: "I would have been overjoyed to have 50 first responders show up if they could save my son. I don’t care about medical confidentiality and all that. I had a normative family and it was destroyed in one day all because of ego. Come to my house, experience one day of what my family now has to go through (because of my son’s disability) and then you will understand that we need one unified dispatch that will pass on all information to all of the first responders."
MK Gafni then responded, "We all understand that there is a solution to dispatching first responders, but there is too much ego involved on the side of MDA."
MK Idit SIlman then said, "We need oversight and control - we need to make certain that all information regarding emergency calls gets to all first responders. The directive from the Health Ministry is not being enforced and therefore not applied."
Representatives from United Hatzalah told the Health Committee that the emergency alert application that was set up by the Health Ministry, the one that is run by MDA, does not work properly.
Representatives showed the committee how one volunteer, who was sitting in the room in the Knesset, was shown on the app, which is supposed to find the closest volunteers to an emergency based on GPS location, as being in Mevaseret Zion.
Vice President of Operations for United Hatzalah Dov Maisel told the committee, "Since the signing of the Health Ministry’s Directive (2017) more than 1,000 first responders from United Hatzalah have not been added to the emergency alert application."
Maisel continued, "There is no technical maintenance for the application. MDA is not willing to talk to United Hatzalah at all and does not respond to our requests. There is zero cooperation coming from their side. The Health Ministry’s directive has not been fulfilled."
Deputy Vice President of Operations for United Hatzalah David Krispel showed the committee just how ineffective the emergency alert application is, even for those volunteers of United Hatzalah who have been granted access. The application, which is supposed to alert the five closest responders to a medical emergency is supposed to identify a first responder’s location based on the GPS of their phone,
However, the interface is extremely problematic, causing first responders to be alerted to emergencies that aren’t even close to them, and not notified about ones that are, if they receive any notification at all.
"I’m here with you in the Knesset and the application shows that I am now in Mevaseret Zion," Krispel said as he showed the committee the application on his phone.
MK Silman then asked the Health Ministry representatives: "How can you say that this app works when we see first hand that it identifies this volunteer in front of us as being in Mevaseret?"