Industry News, Major Incidents

Fully-Integrated EMS Psychotrauma Unit Inaugurated in Israel

Jerusalem, May 26th, 2016 – United Hatzalah held a graduation and inauguration ceremony for its new psychotrauma unit on Sunday evening in the Netzach Yisrael Synagogue in Rehavia. The culmination ceremony not only inaugurated the new unit into United Hatzalah, but also celebrated the dedication of the new psychotrauma volunteers and teachers, many of whom are also volunteer medics, paramedics, and doctors with the organization.

The psychotrauma unit is one of the first of its kind in the world and will be providing psychological first aid for some of the most traumatic calls that the Emergency Medical Services organization receives. These include but are not limited to: terror attacks, sudden deaths, children’s deaths, severe car accidents, severe injuries, natural disasters, suicides, and trauma during war time.

The psychotrauma unit is now fully operational and includes thirty volunteers, many of whom have already responded to calls as part of this unit in the past two months. So far, the fledgling unit has responded to a bus bombing, three cases of grown men who have died due to sudden heart attacks, and three incidents of crib deaths.

One of the founders and instructors of the unit, Rickie Rabinowitz said, “there is another level of injury that the psychotrauma unit is coming on scene to treat. This level of treatment is another layer beyond getting the wounded treated by the volunteer EMTs. Treating the wounded is invaluable work, and this is an added layer to that tremendous work. The extra facet is coming to complement the work of the medic on the scene.  

Psychiatrist and Director of the Jerusalem EMDR Institute, Dr. Gary Quinn, is another one of the instructors, as well as the overseeing psychiatrist of the unit. Dr. Quinn specializes in Crisis Intervention, the treatment of Anxiety and Depressive Disorders, and the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Regarding the emergency response psychotrauma unit, Quinn said, “Many first responders have been taught psychological first aid, which is an eight stage method of helping people deal with a difficult event. This unit has received extensive training which primarily focuses on stage three of that process, which is the stabilization aspect. This step is the most difficult to deal with, and its difficulty is compounded when dealing with people who are in a highly activated state. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first group of EMS responders who are being taught an extra level of stabilization. It is one of the first groups in the world that will be deployed with the specific purpose of providing psychological first aid, and we will need to do a lot of research as we are going along.”  

Head of the unit Miriam Ballin, who works as a Marriage and Family Therapist as well as a volunteer medic for United Hatzalah, said that in addition to treating victims of shock at the scene of an incident, the psychotrauma unit is tasked with stabilizing the situation. “Stabilization can mean many different things. We may need to stabilize the scene during an incident when the situation is so chaotic that no one can get their job done. Alternatively, we may be called upon to stabilize family members of the injured people who were hurt at the scene, or we may even be called upon to stabilize the patient in a case where the patient is so activated that the paramedics cannot treat the person.”

Jonathan Hoffman, one of the graduates from the new unit, said that he is very proud of having the distinction of being a member of the psychotrauma unit and is excited to be able to more fully help people. “I want to have a positive impact on people who are suffering from an immediate trauma. I want to be there for them, and in the moment provide them with care that can save their lives. People who are in an aggravated traumatic state can end up with PTSD, and the goal is to really heal people emotionally. That is what the psychotrauma unit is really all about.”

Ballin added that the job often does not end at the scene. “Another job of ours is to ease the mourning process and help the person do the things that they will need to do in order to get through the chaotic period following a trauma. Whether it is helping them make the first few phone calls for funeral arrangements or assisting them and providing support while empowering them enough so that they will be able to tell their children that a family member has passed away. The job is certainly not easy, but it is important for the person’s health and stability in the moment and hopefully in the future.”

Another participant in the course, Miriam Meisels said, “We feel very prepared and confident to go to the scenes of emergencies with the preparation that we have been given, and we are looking forward to making a big contribution to the organization and being a part of the life-saving work of United Hatzalah. The training program was on a very high level, and we feel confident that we will make a difference.”