Magen David Adom has warned the Knesset that it will need an emergency infusion of funds after the current war in Gaza because it is spending NIS 2 million ($580,000) per day over its usual operations to maintain the highest level of alert.
The Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee held a special solidarity meeting at the Ashdod Magen David Adom headquarters on Wednesday to discuss the rising cost of Israel’s emergency paramedics during Operation Protective Edge.
“Right now the cannons are still roaring and this is not the place to make budget requests from the government of Israel; however, keep in mind that MDA is not like other security branches and is not funded by the state, and at the end of the fighting we plan to petition the government for assistance to find solutions to MDA’s budget for services so we can continue saving lives during emergency situations as well as day-to-day,” MDA director Eli Bin told the committee.
MK Haim Katz (Likud), chairman of the committee, called MDA a “social Iron Dome,” a reference to the rocket-defense system that has downed many of the incoming missiles from the Strip, saving lives.
“Iron Dome protects us from above, and MDA protects us down below,” he said.
MDA needs the extra funds to cover costs like gas, electricity, and salaries, which are higher due to extra shifts and a heavier workload. MDA has been at the highest alert level since the beginning of the Operation Protective Edge. All 1,000 ambulances in its fleet are in use, while in normal circumstances only about a third of the ambulances are deployed at any given time.
MDA is the national ambulance and emergency first responder service, but it is not funded by the government like police or firefighters. Instead, the government purchases MDA’s services on an as-needed basis. During times of war, the government purchases additional services.
Bin said that MDA is spending an extra NIS 2 million per day on top of its usual operating costs to keep the organization functioning at the highest level of alert and adequately respond to medical crises.
However, due to the effectiveness of the Iron Dome system as well as cooperation with Home Front Command and the early-warning siren system, MDA has been dealing with far fewer medical emergencies among civilians than during previous conflicts. “There is no possible way to compare this with the past wars,” said Bin. “We have 90 percent less work.”
Bin said that during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, MDA dealt with more than 4,000 injuries among civilians, many caused by rocket attacks. During the current war, MDA has treated over 600 people, 400 for anxiety, and 115 for minor injuries sustained while running to protected areas during sirens. Three civilians have died from rocket attacks.
“We have double the number of rockets but just 5% of the injuries,” Katz, the committee chairman, added.
Gil Moskowitz, MDA’s director of general operations for the war, said that despite the low number of people receiving treatment, MDA continues to operate on the highest level of alert, which requires stretching its resources across the country. For example, MDA has 23 extra ambulances stationed in the southern resort city of Eilat, despite the fact that there are only 50,000 residents in the city, and the government has not ordered that many extra ambulances for the city.
However, MDA made a tactical decision that if there was a large-scale emergency in Eilat it would take hours to get enough emergency responders there. Even helicopters would require more than 1.5 hours to reach victims if they were leaving from the center of country, said Bin. MDA made the decision to move additional ambulances to Eilat after terrorists in the Sinai launched rockets at the city in early July.
Bin also noted that MDA in Ashdod had dealt with a “meaningful decrease” in crime-related injuries, as well as traffic accidents, because there were far fewer cars on the road in the southern part of the country. “The MDA call center is actually much quieter, except when there is a rocket launched,” said Bin, as he gave Katz a tour of the emergency hotline headquarters in Ashdod on Wednesday. “It’s 10:40 a.m.; usually this is the busiest time of the day, but today it’s totally quiet.”
Katz told Bin he would try to secure funds for MDA, but a representative from the Finance Ministry refused to go into details as to who would be compensated, and for how much, while the war was still underway. “There is not enough funding for MDA, just like there is not enough funding for many health services,” Katz said after the meeting. “We’re a small country and we don’t have enough money for everything.”
At the end of the tour members of the committee also met with International Friends of MDA from the United States and Britain, who were in Israel for a three-day solidarity mission. Several of the international donors complained that their donations to MDA were subject to high value-added tax, despite the fact that the money was meant to pay for a service that the government needs but cannot afford.
Katz told the international donors he was aware of the problem.