Shaarei Zedek hosts medical symposium on preparedness for mass casualty events
By Alisa Roberts
This Monday night, the American Convention for Shaare Zedek Hospital hosted the Dr. David Applebaum z”l Symposium at the Luxe Hotel in Brentwood. As David Segal, Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles, said in his opening briefing, the event was a night “to celebrate a legacy of heroism, ethics, morality, and medicine.” The memory of Dr. David Applebaum, z”l, was very much alive in the room, and not just with his son Dr. Yitzchok Applebaum and his widow Mrs. Debra Applebaum. Many of the physicians who spoke had personal memories to share, and all were inspired by his work. Dr. Applebaum was chief of the emergency room and trauma services at Shaare Zedek before his murder at the hands of a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 2003. He was a pioneer of emergency medical treatment.
The topic for this year’s symposium was Preparedness For Mass Casualty Events. The panel of speakers included doctors from the US and Israel who had dealt with some of worst terror attacks our nation has faced, and devastating mass disasters from around the globe.
After opening remarks from Dr. Daniel Wohlgelernter and Dr. Shlomo Melmed and the singing of the national anthems by Cantor Netanel Baram, Mr. John Voight came up to speak. In his brief remarks he asked the question: What is it about the Jews? His answer was, “The Jews are the conscience of the world.” He also spoke about the gift of Israel, and how we must all band together to support Israel and each other. Following his remarks was a brief overview of the work done by Shaare Zedek Hospital. Among many impressive statistics was the number of deliveries performed in the hospital: They expect to see 21,000 babies delivered in 2013, making them the most active maternity unit in Israel (and possibly the world). They also boast several innovative programs, including a new stem cell program. David Segal wrapped up the introductory portion with his words on what the hospital has accomplished. “The people from this hospital are not only treating Israelis, Jews, and Arabs – they’re treating the world…They are not just doing well but doing good. Good for the world.”
Dr. Yitzchak Applebaum spoke briefly to introduce Dr. Peter Rosen, the moderator of the evening. Dr. Rosen, a legend of emergency medicine, introduced the panelists and entertained the audience with funny and sometimes wrenching anecdotes between speakers. While opening the discussion of the evening’s topic, he mentioned that he had been told people were upset with the state of our national emergency preparedness. “They may be, but I don’t think they should be,” was his response. He added, “My fear is not where we are today, but where we will not be tomorrow…If you’re going to save lives you’re going to have to spend some money.”
Dr. Bruce Logan, of New York Downtown Hospital, spoke about the four major terror attacks to strike lower Manhattan, including the September 11th attacks, which he was present in the hospital for. Unfortunately, there were not many survivors of that attack to treat. He discussed the inadequate decontamination site they used that day, and the tremendous progress they have made since. “We went to Israel to meet with the director of the ER and we literally copied things.” They now have the biggest decontamination center in New York City, and one of the most up to date ERs.
Dr. William Begg, of Danbury Hospital in Connecticut, began his remarks by explaining that he didn’t enjoy leaving home. “I rarely travel. But I was so inspired by Dr. Applebaum that I felt compelled to come.” He discussed the tragic shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School, and stressed prevention as part of disaster preparedness. Treatment, no matter how ready and fast, can come too late. In Newtown, “No one made it to the emergency room. They all died at the scene.”
Dr. Joel Geiderman, of Cedars-Sinai, began his presentation saying, “I think we’re incredibly prepared in Los Angeles.” He went on to note that while we have not suffered any major terror attacks, our hospitals have worked successfully through other disasters, including train crashes, civil unrest, and earthquakes.
Dr. Richard Wolfe, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, discussed the marathon bombing. They too were well prepared, having run various drills and welcomed visiting speakers from Israel and elsewhere. In fact, because of the marathon, they were especially prepared that day. The roads to the hospitals had already been cleared in case of any injuries at the race. Dr. Wolfe jokingly claimed that this “eliminated the greatest danger: we took the Boston driver off the road.” He also highlighted the amazing response times from brave first responders on site.
Dr. Ofer Merin, of Shaare Zedek, was the final speaker of the evening. He discussed Shaare Zedek’s unrivalled humanitarian work. They were first on the ground in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and the only foreign aid in Japan after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It was recently disclosed that they have been doing humanitarian aid in Syria during their ongoing civil war as well. They are also leading the way in terms of home disaster preparedness. They run regular full scale drills, where everyone participates. “Because we are in a constant state of war, preparedness on a personal level is very high.”
While each of these tragedies has left a permanent mark, and while we can only prepare so much, Dr. Geiderman summed it up best: “We rise to the occasion. I think that’s part of the American spirit. And the Jewish spirit.”