In a first for South America, United Hatzalah has begun operating in Colombia after it opened a new chapter in the country this week. This is the fifth international chapter for the organization, which also has emergency medical responders in Panama, Ukraine and Jersey City in the United States.
Michael Andorson started the new chapter – which he initially called United Rescue Colombia (URC) – in the Colombian city of Cartagena. At the time of its inception, URC consisted of a handful of responders on motorcycles, and it has been following United Hatzalah’s model as well as providing emergency medical services free of charge to anyone who needs medical assistance.
With Israel’s team joining the fray, that ethos will remain the same. “This project is so important for Colombia as a country and for the Colombian people.
"People here are dying every day waiting for an ambulance as the average ambulance response time in the capital of Bogota is 45 minutes," Anderson said. "The fact that we are joining forces with United Hatzalah is going to change the lives of a lot of people... It is a really big thing for everyone here.”
The first chapter in Cartagena has been active for some time and currently consists of 28 volunteers and five ambucycles. In the capital city of Bogota, the current plan is to launch the project in two weeks time, once the new fleet of ambucycles arrive.
The new joint organization will take on the name of United Hatzalah and will continue to use ambucycles to respond to medical emergencies throughout Cartagena but will also expand to begin operations in the capital of Bogota in the coming weeks. United Hatzalah has committed to sending vests, technology and equipment from Israel to both the existing chapter and the new one.
“Our mission is to save lives wherever needed across the globe," said Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah. "We are happy to partner with the team already established in Cartagena and expand this project much further so that we can provide emergency medical services to all residents of Colombia.”
The original URC was active prior to the merger and closely mimicked the more established Israeli team. United Hatzalah’s involvement will help the fledgling operation expand to meet its national goals.
United Hatzalah CEO Moshe Teitelbaum – who visited Colombia last week in order to establish operations in the country – said that “the goal is to expand the current operation, which has been running for a few months now, to the entire country."
"Now that Cartagena is operational, we are working on getting teams set up in the capital city of Bogota,” he added.
United Hatzalah of Colombia welcomed trained first responders and will also train new ones to help increase the number of volunteers in order to reach their goal – to build a network of some 500 volunteers in the capital city while at the same time build chapters around the rest of the country.
“United Hatzalah’s system works. It is a wonderful idea that I saw in Israel and I wanted to implement it here, so I did," said Andorson. “We are almost at a three-minute average response time in urban areas where we have a lot of volunteers."
He said that it he had achieved this "by combining a network of volunteers from across the city together with the technology and equipment they need to save lives. In addition to saving lives, we are uniting people through a common goal." He added, "We do our own training, and we have received a lot of praise from the government who looks positively on what we are doing here for the city."
"In short, I am very excited that United Hatzalah is officially joining us to help move this project forward. I used their model here in Cartagena and we will now work together to increase it and build up the model and the organization around the entire country,” Andorson concluded.