Photo Credit: United Hatzalah

Ido Nechushtan, a United Hatzalah ambucycle medic and volunteer coordinator for the Ten Kavod project, last month was dispatched by the United Hatzalah command center to a familiar address. The patient had fallen out of his wheelchair and required bandaging for some minor injuries. While no ambulance was necessary, Nechushtan realized that there indeed was more that could be done to help this man than reacting to his emergency calls.

Nechushtan stayed with the man for over an hour, listening to his medical and personal history. He was a member of the elite 890th Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade that had fought alongside the unit’s then-commander and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He fought valiantly but it wasn’t the Egyptians or the Syrians that got him, it was the deterioration of his diabetes that cost him one leg and now some toes on his second leg. Nechushtan realized that without proactive care, possible through the Ten Kavod program, this veteran would have an anonymous and ignoble end. Not wasting a moment, he enrolled the man in the Ten Kavod project and became his personal caseworker.   

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United Hatzalah operates the Ten Kavod (Give Respect) program to provide regular medical checkups to elderly individuals living alone, focusing especially on Holocaust survivors and Israeli war veterans. Dozens of volunteers, who have received specialized training in geriatric care, visit program participants at least once weekly to take their vital signs, to follow up on their illnesses, and to check if they are in need of medication or extra care. In addition, high-school students provide vital assistance in Ten Kavod as part of a pre-matriculation social benefit program sponsored by the Ministry of Education. They go to the homes of the elderly people in order to cheer them up and recognize when to call in the United Hatzalah caseworker or even generate an emergency call if needed.

They are ‘family’ to people who have no relatives or friends to converse with and no one to care for them. Simply paying attention to the elderly can also save lives.

Shmuel Rosengarten, the Ten Kavod program director, said that the program was borne out of the organization’s daily outreach to thousands of citizens who are in need of emergency medical assistance.

“Among the hundreds of emergency calls its volunteers respond to daily, United Hatzalah treats dozens of elderly people, nearly 65% of them Holocaust survivors, every single day. Whether it’s in Jerusalem, where our main headquarters is located or other towns and cities across Israel, where we operate, from Ashkelon in the south to Kiryat Ata/Haifa in the North,” said Rosengarten. “But what we were discovering over time, was that many of these elderly people needed a lot more than just one-time medical assistance, especially those who live by themselves. So we took it upon ourselves to come back and visit these elderly people once or twice a week to take their blood pressure, check their blood sugar levels and actually sit with them a bit and talk over a cup of coffee or tea. We’d ask if they were missing something like food or medications and if so, we would alert their social worker to take care of it. We don’t want to see these people die by themselves alone, so we decided to look after them. The human interaction helps them both mentally and physically.”

The chesed (kindness) of these United Hatzalah medics has spurred a variety of unique people to volunteer in the program, from the aforementioned students to practicing doctors. “We have a 60-year-old doctor volunteering after he’s done tending to his regular patients. He visits a 94-year-old woman to check her vitals and then sit and chat with her. He feels as if he’s her son and the feeling is mutual,” added Rosengarten. “Other volunteers have realized that many of these people either don’t have relatives in Israel, or live far away and thus can’t tend to them. They don’t interact with the neighbors either. Some people have actually died because no one checked on them. In one case, we found that because no one could take an elderly man to the doctor, his health started failing quickly.  He had serious pains in his legs. Our volunteer made sure that he went to the doctor, who referred him to an orthopedist. He then was able to receive physiotherapy, which helped him almost immediately.”

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