Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Life-Saving Care in Less Than Three Minutes

At the age of 15, Eli Beer, a native Israeli, took an EMT course and started volunteering at an ambulance company in the city of Jerusalem. Now, nearly 25 years later, he is the co-founder of a volunteer organization that is over 2000 strong and acts throughout the world to bring prehospital emergency care as quickly as possible to those who need it. Referred to as a "life-saving flash mob", United Hatzalah, or United Rescue, responds to 500 calls every day in Israel, in situations where seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Israeli medic Eli Beer speaks at TEDMED alongside his

Beer's early experiences with emergency care in Israel were fraught with difficulty and frustration. At the age of 6, he witnessed a bus bombing that led to a lot of injuries and deaths; despite being too young to help, he was inspired by this incident to become an EMT. He volunteered for an ambulance company in Jerusalem for two years, but unfortunately, he did not save any lives due to the heavy traffic that plagues the city and prevented emergency care from moving through efficiently. Beer witnessed several deaths that could have been prevented if the ambulance had not been prevented from reaching the scene of the emergency in a timely fashion.

Infuriated by these unnecessary deaths, Beer decided (along with 15 of his friends) to begin responding to emergency calls in his own neighborhood. However, when he asked the ambulance company to alert this group of volunteers to calls in their area, he was refused. This initial hostility on behalf of the ambulance companies didn't slow Beer down for a second. Self-described as a "stubborn kid", he went out and bought two police scanners, and he and his friends took turns listening for emergency calls and responding to those in their area. Within days, Beer had saved the life of a 70 year old man who had been hit by a car by rushing to the scene and acting to stop the man's bleeding before the ambulance arrived to carry him to the hospital.

In 1989, United Hatzalah was officially founded in the city of Jerusalem; now, the organization has grown dramatically, saving over 207,000 lives in 2012 alone. Instead of relying on ambulances moving through the heavy traffic of Jerusalem, motorcycles outfitted with all of the necessary emergency medical supplies (other than a bed, of course) are sent to the scene of an emergency. Because the motorcycles can move between cars and on the sidewalks in order to avoid traffic, the response to an emergency call can occur in under three minutes within the city. Beer is careful to point out that United Hatzalah does not exist to replace ambulances; instead, they lessen the gap between when a call is received and when help arrives.

The name United Hatzalah originated in Brooklyn, where a Hasidic Jew with a very similar idea to Beer's had begun sending medically-equipped cycles throughout the streets of New York. This idea spread throughout the Jewish community; however, with Beer's help, this life-saving community has expanded beyond the boundaries of religion, race, and nationality. Early on in the life of the organization in Israel, Beer helped to found a branch in East Jerusalem, enabling Jews, Arabs, and Christians to work together toward a common goal: saving lives.

Eli Beer is an excellent example of a creative personality. His desire to save lives motivated him to expand upon a simple idea that had never spread beyond the Jewish community in order to respond to emergency situations on a global scale. His refusal to back down in the face of rejection from traditional ambulance companies, combined with a large dose of chutzpah, enabled him to help save lives on a scale beyond his original dreams. His passion for his work and his willingness to put everything else aside to respond to an emergency as quickly as possible make him both an excellent medical professional and a creative inspiration.

For more information on United Hatzalah, look here.
To watch Eli Beer's TED MED talk, go here.


  1. The concept behind United Hatzalah seems so simple that it makes me think "Why did it take so long to come up with this?" But in reality, without Beer's stubbornness, a program of this kind might still not exist. Legally, he would have had to go through piles of paperwork and meetings with hospital and emergency response teams to even begin the process of building United Hatzalah. It truly is because of his creative personality that he was able to make his vision a reality. That stubbornness and passion allowed him to continue with his idea when most others would have sat back and waited for someone else to bring it to reality.

  2. This is the kind of creativity that excites me the most. Usually when you hear about "creativity", it has to do with things that are artistic or cool. Which, don't get me wrong, I love as well. However, there is something inherently beautiful about using critical thinking to help those in need. I feel like creativity tends to be less recognized when it has to do with either business, or volunteerism. However, Beer strikes me as a creative personality type, mainly because of his stubbornness and inability to take no for an answer. And to be honest, it's really hard to argue with his end result.


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