On behalf of Bergen Hatzalah, we write to address certain misstatements and half-truths contained in the “Letter from TVAC” written by the president and chief of Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC) and published in The Link’s November 19, 2021, issue and to set the record straight.
The letter, “sent to Teaneck residents on behalf of Bergen Hatzalah” referenced in last week’s Link was, in fact, a letter sent from the shuls in Englewood to their members. The recipients, some of whom seem to reside in Teaneck, receive all Englewood shul communications as part of their shul membership, including communications mentioning Bergen Hatzalah. Despite being provided this clarity on a November 11, 2021, phone call, TVAC’s leadership disingenuously left this fact out of its letter in this publication. This is just one example of how, for months, TVAC’s current leadership has been less than forthcoming about Bergen Hatzalah and its acts, failing to tell the whole story and instead providing just the claims (many untrue) that are in TVAC’s interest to share.
The TVAC letter stated: “When 911 is called, all necessary responders, EMTs, paramedics, police and fire are dispatched simultaneously.” This is also not quite accurate. What many do not know is that when 911 is called in Teaneck, that call is answered by a Bergen County 911 call taker sitting in Mahwah, New Jersey. The call taker then documents the caller’s information and connects the caller to the Teaneck Police Department. The Teaneck Police Department then collects information from the county call-taker in Mahwah and dispatches a police officer over the radio and picks up the phone to call TVAC for a response. If paramedics or fire department resources are needed, Teaneck Police makes separate calls to these dispatchers for each of these resources.
Needless to say, this is not the most efficient way to dispatch in a life-threatening emergency. It has been said for several years that this delay-causing protocol is being addressed, but to date, unsuccessfully. By contrast, when Bergen Hatzalah is called, the dispatcher sends a Hatzalah member directly to the scene—there is no rerouting of calls. Because of this streamlined dispatch, Hatzalah’s average response time (from call to arrival on scene) is under 4 minutes, often much faster. Chevra Hatzalah is built around this response model, while TVAC’s response is not. This, in fact, is not TVAC’s fault, it is the system in which they operate, which is typical of municipal EMS in Bergen County. Regardless, in a life-threatening emergency, time is of the essence. Whether you call 911 or Bergen Hatzalah, you will receive the best care and attention possible, but the choice of whom to call should belong to the members of the community, not the ambulance corps or municipal officials who are looking to protect their own self-interests. Bergen Hatzalah believes people should call whomever they feel most comfortable calling. Shouldn’t Teaneck residents have the option of calling a service that can respond quickest?
TVAC’s current leadership claims the community rabbis do not support Bergen Hatzalah. This is simply not true. First, it bears remembering that Bergen Hatzalah provides services in the greater Bergen County area, including Englewood, Englewood Cliffs, Tenafly, Hackensack, Ridgefield Park, Fort Lee and more. Rabbis in these communities—and outside Bergen County—have provided support for Bergen Hatzalah. Nonetheless, Bergen Hatzalah has been demonized and ostracized within Teaneck and residents have been told repeatedly not to call Bergen Hatzalah, despite its faster response time. But there has never been full disclosure about the strengths and benefits of using Bergen Hatzalah.
Chevra Hatzalah, and by extension Bergen Hatzalah, also has its own Vaad Harabonim, including Rav Dovid Cohen, Rav Chaim Tauber, Rav Avrohom Meshulem Polatsek and Rav Reuven Feinstein, each of whom support Bergen Hatzalah’s mission, including saving lives when we are called from within Teaneck.
Hatzalah is a faith-based, independent agency founded in the 1960s. While Bergen Hatzalah is a new branch of the larger Chevra Hatzalah, it comes with the history of Hatzalah’s quick-response model that has made it a crucial, life-saving entity. And, while Bergen Hatzalah respects all EMS agencies, and believes that any person—regardless of where they live and regardless of their religion or race—should have the choice to use whichever EMS agency best suits them, Hatzalah’s different model (the one that allows for faster response times) simply does not allow it to be absorbed into another agency, such as TVAC. The decentralized model of Hatzalah means that ALL members are equipped with the same lifesaving equipment found in an ambulance. And while TVAC members may be dispatched directly to a scene, they are often not equipped with all the necessary lifesaving medical equipment when they respond.
Bergen Hatzalah has its own medical director who has completed multiple fellowships and is dual board-certified in both Emergency Medicine and EMS. Bergen Hatzalah is currently undergoing licensure with the State of New Jersey Office of Emergency Medical Services. TVAC has its own medical director, but is not licensed by the State of New Jersey Office of EMS. These are yet additional reasons why Bergen Hatzalah cannot simply become part of TVAC, as suggested in TVAC leadership’s letter. While Bergen Hatzalah collaborates with TVAC, as it does with all EMS agencies, Bergen Hatzalah will not be strong-armed into joining TVAC by being on the receiving end of harassment when taking calls in Teaneck.
A few additional, final points bear mentioning to set the record straight:
There is no evidence to suggest that donations to Bergen Hatzalah will siphon funds that would otherwise go to TVAC. While Bergen Hatzalah will always accept donations from any source, at the directive of the Teaneck rabbinate, it has thus far refrained from doing any active fundraising within Teaneck. So, Bergen Hatzalah has not diverted any funds away from TVAC through its fundraising efforts. On a related note, if TVAC was suffering financially and needed additional funds to operate effectively, its leadership should decide to bill its patients, something many area EMS agencies do but it cannot do, since it is has decided not to be licensed by the NJ State Office of EMS.
Bergen Hatzalah’s taking calls in Teaneck will not lead to an exodus of volunteer responders from TVAC in favor of joining Bergen Hatzalah. Hatzalah has strict rules regarding its membership among them—only marriage-age Orthodox males. Most TVAC volunteers historically and currently fall outside this demographic. Setting that aside, doing so would be purely a personal decision (and how a volunteer organization could prohibit such conduct is questionable). There is no real danger that Bergen Hatzalah would somehow “poach” droves of TVAC members or that the community at large would be in jeopardy due to a smaller TVAC membership.
Bergen Hatzalah will refrain from putting in the public domain the extensive harassment, defamation and mistreatment it has received from elements within the Teaneck municipal government, TVAC members and its supporters. It will not provide details about websites that have been established full of misinformation and defamatory statements about Bergen Hatzalah and its membership or ordinances that have been put in place seemingly directed at prohibiting Bergen Hatzalah. Despite all of this, please know that Bergen Hatzalah remains committed to its mission of providing life-saving medical care to anyone in need. Thankfully, to this point, these annoyances have not led directly to the loss of human life or limb. But it is only a matter of time before that potential exists if Bergen Hatzalah continues to be vilified and precluded as a lifesaving option.
Unlike TVAC’s current leadership, Bergen Hatzalah will not attempt to dictate which EMS service should be utilized. You, and no one else, should decide what EMS service is best for you or a loved one in a medical emergency. Hopefully, you will never need to call any EMS, but if you do, Bergen Hatzalah is available 24/7/365 by calling 201-367-2222.Bergen Hatzalah Leadership