Richard S. Hirschhaut

World learns from Rambam Medical Center in Israel: Response to terror, trauma, and mass casualty situations

With large-scale terrorism a reality, and justifiable concern that even more incidents could occur, a group of senior medical professionals from 20 countries gathered at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa recently for a two-week course on responding to Mass Casualty Situations (MCS). The State of Israel and Rambam, with nearly seven decades of experience in confronting war and terrorism, have had to develop the expertise in responding to MCS. And, as much of the world confronts the threat of terrorism, Israel’s experience is drawing increasing numbers of foreign experts to Haifa and the Rambam Health Care Campus to prepare for their own catastrophic scenarios.

Rambam’s Teaching Center was established in 1999 with the goal of sharing its accumulated experience in MCS with health care professionals in Israel and worldwide, with the ultimate goal of saving lives. To date, more than 3,500 professionals from 63 countries have attended the Rambam programs. There also have been separate programs of advanced research and training for NATO member states.

Rambam is uniquely qualified in this emerging field of medicine. As the largest hospital in northern Israel and the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the region, Rambam is on the front lines in treating injured IDF soldiers as well as civilians injured in terror attacks. A hospital with nearly 5,000 physicians, nurses, medical and administrative staff, Rambam is large but agile, adapting quickly to emergencies or MCS situations.

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Rambam itself was targeted by enemy forces, with over 60 rockets landing perilously close to the hospital. As a result, Rambam set out to build the largest fortified underground emergency hospital in the world. Within 72 hours, its underground parking garage converts into a fully functioning hospital with up to 2,000 beds, capable of conducting the most advanced surgical and emergency treatments. It is an extraordinary facility, remarkable for its versatility and performance.

While no one hopes they may ever have to deal with mass trauma situations, the diverse professionals who attended the International Trauma Training School came away better prepared for large-scale casualty response in their own countries.

Rambam is renowned for treating the wounded from the battlefield and casualties from terrorist attacks. And while Rambam’s mortality rate for severe trauma patients is the lowest in the country, it can never be low enough. Still, it is heartening to know that so many other countries have come to appreciate and benefit from our experience.

About the Author
Rick Hirschhaut has served as a Jewish communal professional for over three decades. He has held senior leadership positions with the Anti-Defamation League, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and American Friends of Rambam Medical Center. He is also an Emmy Award winning co-producer of the nationally broadcast documentary, Skokie: Invaded but Not Conquered.
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