July 18, 2024
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‘Taking the Handcuffs Off’ Hatzalah Paramedics Bill Becomes Law

A bill allowing the volunteer paramedics of Hatzalah to operate within mobile intensive care units and provide immediate advanced life support when responding to emergencies has been signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy.

“It’s a big advantage to Hatzalahs in New Jersey because up until now we have been hampered,” said Dr. Nathan Zemel, founder and CEO of Hatzalah of Essex County and of Hatzalah Statewide. “This is really taking the handcuffs off.”

Hatzalah is the international network of Jewish trained medical professionals providing volunteer emergency medical services.

Up until the bill’s signing on January 18, Hatzalah paramedics, who have been certified by the state commissioner of health and have undergone the same rigorous training as paid paramedics, have been unable to provide immediate treatment at the scene because they arrive in their own vehicles rather than a mobile care unit and do not wear official uniforms. Paramedics are trained to provide life-saving services to patients in critical condition that emergency medical technicians are not trained to offer.

“I quote many of my friends in Hatzalah that this has the potential to save lives,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), a co-sponsor of the bill, in a phone interview with The Jewish Link. “It’s designed so that people can receive as close to immediate care as is necessary.”

The bill, which was passed unanimously in both the state Assembly and Senate, was co-sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Dist. 6) and Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Dist. 7), who is also a medical doctor. Its Senate sponsors were Robert Singer, (R-Dist. 30) and Vin Gopal (D-Dist. 11).

“This is a big advantage because it will allow us to treat patients even quicker,” said Simcha Shain, founder and coordinator of Lakewood Hatzalah paramedic program—now Hatzalah of Central Jersey—adding that previously Hatzalah paramedics had to wait for a licensed ambulance to show up before beginning emergency intervention.

“I am glad the governor and legislature recognized this was all about saving lives,” said Shain, also founder of Paraflight, providing air ambulances, and OrganFlights.com, providing transportation of organs, recipients, transplant teams and family members.

Unlike paramedics in other states such as New York, paramedics in New Jersey previously could only provide basic life support but could not provide such advanced life-saving measures as intravenous medications, intubating patients or performing an EKG if they did not arrive in a mobile unit, according to Zemel.

Schaer said turnover in volunteer ambulance corps typically runs about 20-30% each year and COVID-19 has only placed additional strain on such emergency medical services. This has forced some small communities with staffing issues to discontinue offering volunteer emergency medical services, thus making the new law even more crucial.

“It applies to any volunteer ambulance corps, but I have to admit there are not any others in New Jersey that I am aware of that are similar to Hatzalah,” said Schaer. “Hatzalah has literally grown and grown. It’s really quite remarkable. There are different models for different communities but there’s a commonality. Hatzalah is really the most advanced volunteer network in the United States.”

Schaer, whose district covers parts of Bergen and Passaic counties, noted Hatzalah is “a foundational component of the healthcare system within the Jewish community” because of its members’ understanding of religious and cultural customs. Although Hatzalah was formed to serve the Jewish community, its members treat anyone.

Schaer said the staffing shortages place residents at greater risk during a medical emergency and applauded the actions of his legislative colleagues in allowing Hatzalah paramedics the opportunity to expand their life-saving efforts. Shain said there are now more than 300 Hatzalah volunteers in the state in 10 chapters.

“The desperate need for skilled paramedics far exceeds the current supply,” said Singer, whose district includes the Lakewood area, in a prepared statement. “This new law will help close the gap with volunteers who are trained, field-tested and willing to help.”

By Debra Rubin

 

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