Jerusalem – Dovie Maisel sounds like an evangelist.
Not for him or for a religion, but for a cause called United Hatzalah. The network of trained volunteers answers calls for emergency medical care in Israel’s largest cities and across the country — and it could be coming to Michigan’s largest city if Maisel and city officials can realize his newest dream.
“The mayor and deputy mayor are interested in bringing the process to Detroit,” Maisel told more than 20 Michigan CEOs in Israel this month to get a deeper understanding of the entrepreneurialism driving Israel’s startup ethos. “We are not coming to take any jobs. We are the community. We are coming to help them.”
The city and its EMT units are in preliminary discussions with United Hatzalah to see if the Israeli concept, to be launched this month in Jersey City, New Jersey, could be adapted for Detroit. The effort would be designed to complement, not compete with, the city’s stressed EMT units; to train community volunteers; and potentially to create a cadre of skilled technicians who could vie for EMT openings in Detroit or elsewhere.
Hatzalah volunteers, clad in the group’s red-white-and-blue livery, do not replace professional EMT units in Israel. Certified according to Israeli national standards, they’re often able to answer calls more quickly because they are embedded in their communities and often have less distance to travel to help a choking victim, bind a wound or use a defibrillator until the pros arrive and take over. Volunteers are not paid, and victims are not charged.
It’s an audacious idea for Detroit, one Mayor Mike Duggan dismissed as fanciful in a city of 139 square miles with a population pushing 700,000 — until he heard the pitch and compared it to the city’s need to improve its response to emergency calls. Concerns about liability and litigation exposure should be vetted, of course, but so should Maisel’s vision and whether it could be implemented in Detroit.
It is reality in Israel, a polyglot of ethnicity, religion and intermittent tension effectively bridged by United Hatzalah. Meaning rescue in Hebrew, Hatzalah doesn’t mess around. In a country of less than 8 million, it fields 700 emergency calls a day, carries 3,000 volunteers nationwide and boasts an average response time of three minutes, even less in more densely populated major cities.
The group claims a fleet of 450 “ambucyles” volunteers use to answer calls, and counts 2,550 volunteer-owned vehicles that are used to augment its rescue fleet. With a budget of $10 million, all of it privately funded, Hatzalah maintains 40 branches across the country organized into eight districts — its volunteers treat victims regardless of ethnicity, sex or religion.
“Our ultimate goal is to save lives, to take the community and train them at all levels,” says Maisel, a co-founder of United Hatzalah and chief operating officer of Israelife. “We want to teach everyone in Israel to do CPR, to hook up a defibrillator. What are we uniting? We are uniting different walks of life in Israel.”
This may be the right cause at the right time for Detroit. It could answer a public need, could ease pressure on EMT units, could teach volunteers from the city’s neighborhoods marketable skills, could tap an entrepreneurial vein in a Duggan administration generally open to alternative solutions, and could be funded by individual private donors and foundations.
“It’s needed with our emergency response rate being among the lowest in the country,” says Joe Mullaney, CEO of Detroit Medical Center, though response times have improved under Duggan. “Our medical director is very positive about it. If they could do that in Jersey City, there’s a model to follow.”
Both DMC and Henry Ford Health Systems’ chief of emergency medicine are working with the mayor’s office to assess the implications of trying to implement the program. The process potentially is fraught with legal and medical issues, as well as reassuring union EMTs that the effort is not a back-door gambit to eliminate their jobs.
Launching the effort also would require “a lot of community involvement,” says Henry Ford CEO Nancy Schlichting. The price tag would be an estimated $1 million to establish the program, say business leaders briefed on Hatzalah’s initial meeting in Detroit earlier this fall, followed by roughly $500,000 annually to support the operations.
“Those are not financially insurmountable” numbers, says Mark Davidoff, Michigan managing partner of Deloitte LLP and a co-leader of the CEO Mission to Israel. Given the readiness among the business and philanthropic community to fund new solutions to old problems in the city, he’s probably right.
This is one idea the CEOs who spent a week studying Israel’s entrepreneurial mojo, and others like them, could get behind. More than the Israeli business eco-system defined by military training and its application to the country’s burgeoning high-tech scene, the Hatzalah project could be imported, reshaped and implemented.
The concept originated in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. The effort was founded in Jerusalem in 1989, and throughout the 1990s only ultra-orthodox Jews participated. In 2006, disparate branches were united under a single umbrella, eventually opening the way for members of other religions and ethnic groups to participate.
On a Monday night here in Jerusalem, Hatzalah’s control room is manned by ultra-orthodox men and secular Jews, an Israeli Arab and Druse — all working at the same time, together. Purple dots representing active calls mark the bank of wide-screen monitors, the product of software the group developed “before Uber was Uber” to track calls and the whereabouts of volunteers responding to those calls.
“If you want to see co-existence, this is real co-existence, Maisel says. “As long as you have the right cause, this is possible.”
Daniel Howes is a Detroit News columnist and associate business editor. Watch for his columns through November on the Michigan CEO mission to Israel.
His column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and can be found here. Catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.