Knesset Health Committee: Time to Establish One Emergency Medical Dispatch Center

A volunteer of United Hatzalah, seen near an ambulance in Yerushalayim. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

On Wednesday morning, during a meeting of the Knesset Health Committee, the issue 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 in the middle of a stressful situation to 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 Health Ministry Yair Chevroni told the committee that currently there is no continuous supervision by the Health Ministry 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 that MDA would share all  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 Chevroni 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. Chevroni admitted that “there is no full cooperation.” In addition, he said, regarding the supervision and control of MDA’s activities, “the report [from MDA to the Health Ministry] does not go through once a month as was previously mandated.”

When Chevroni was asked by Silman when the last meeting of the Monitoring Committee on Cooperation took place, Chevroni replied, “More than a year ago.”

Chevroni 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 Rabbi Yinon Azulai (Shas) said during the committee meeting, “It may be that the Health Ministry 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 Health Ministry supervises the app and that all information is transferred to the United Hatzalah volunteers.”

MK 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 Rabbi Moshe Gafni (UTJ) responded, “I proposed that there be a unification of the emergency phone lines. The bill passed on 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 Rabbi 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. It is a network of volunteers that is professional and 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.”

Representatives from United Hatzalah told the Health Committee that the emergency alert application that was set up by the Health Ministry, which is run by MDA, does not work properly. Representatives showed the committee how one volunteer, who was sitting in the room in the Knesset, appeared on the app, which is supposed to find the closest volunteers to an emergency based on GPS location, as being in Mevaseret Zion.

Silman then asked the Health Ministry representatives, “How can you say this app works when we see firsthand that it identifies this volunteer in front of us as being in Mevaseret?”