Thursday, November 24, 2005

That Hatzolah Incident

Several weeks ago, The Jewish Press reported and editorialized on an incident on the Lower East Side of Manhattan involving the Hatzolah volunteer ambulance group, the NYC Emergency Medical Service and the NYC Police Department. Hatzolah supervisor was arrested for insisting that their team treat an elderly woman in need of emergency care rather than a less trained and credentialed EMS team on the scene. A police lieutenant on the scene disagreed and made the arrest. Although in subsequent meetings it was conceded by NYC officials that according to operational protocols of which the lieutenant was ignorant, the Hatzolah team indeed had priority, there was no withdrawal of the complaint and the case went to court. Last week a judge dismissed the charge, noting the protocols. The city made no appearance in court.

As we noted at the time, ever since the early days of the Giuliani administration, when a plan was hatched to fold all of New York City`s volunteer ambulance and emergency services into the NYC Fire Department, there has been a decidedly seething, adversarial offical view of the Orthodox Jewish sponsored Hatzolah, which despite the pressures, has continued as an independent service and the gold standard for emergency response in our city state and nation. Although on the operative level there has been much cooperation between Hatzolah and line city officials with direct responsibility for the delivery of emergency services to particular areas, "the higher-up" institutional resentment of the continued effectiveness of Hatzolah is sometimes palpable. Surely, one would have thought that Hatzolah`s universally hailed program would be celebrated by the City Fathers rather than challenged at various intervals. Yet antagonism seems to be the order of the day, something underscored by the City`s refusal to withdraw the complaint against the Hatzolah member although it apparently felt it was indefensible.

The importance of this attitudinal problem was underscored when a number of police officers signed a petition scandalously claiming that more serious charges against the Hatzolah member would have been lodged had he not been a member of what they characterized as a coddled Orthodox Jewish/Hasidic elite.

It is time that the Bloomberg administration confront this explosive issue head on. In order that all levels of government understand that Hatsoloah is not the enemy and is part of the solution and not part of the problem, the Mayor should consider issuing an official apology over the incident.

NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the Lower East Side and who had tried to defuse the controversy at the time of the arrest said that he was gratified that at least the judiciary system bought about a just resolution to the matter in terms of the individual who was arrested. He said, however, that at this time, given the media spin on the incident and the actions of certain police officers, only a public mayoral acknowledgment of Hatzolah`s value to the City will rehabilitate Hatzolah in important quarters and enhance the capacity of this important resource that is critical to the well-being of countless New Yorkers.


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