Good Samaritan Policy places wellbeing before discipline

Vassar College Emergency Medical Services is a student-volunteer group which attends to campus calls throughout the week. They employ a Good Samaritan policy to encourage safety. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Vassar College Emergency Medical Services is a student-volunteer group which attends to campus calls throughout the week. They employ a Good Samaritan policy to encourage safety. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Vassar College Emergency Medical Services is a student-volunteer group which attends to campus
calls throughout the week. They employ a Good Samaritan policy to encourage safety. Photo By: Sam Pianello

After a long week of classes, tests, sports and meetings, many students look to the weekend as a stress-free refuge, a time to loosen up, relax and have a little fun. Sometimes, however, a few too many drinks can turn good natured festivities into out of control and potentially dangerous situations. These crucial points are when Vassar College Emergency Medical Services (VCEMS) steps in.

According to their website, VCEMS is a volunteer-run organization comprised of approximately 60 members, most of whom are New York State certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and dedicated to providing emergency medical care to the campus community. It operates on weeknights from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. and 24 hours a day on weekends.

According to their records, over Halloween weekend alone VCEMS responded to 11 calls and had 5 hospitalizations.

“We provide high-quality, quick response, confidential emergency medical services to everyone on Vassar’s campus when the other health services are closed. We are able to stay on scene for longer than the city EMTs that have a larger area to cover. We live and study with the majority of our patients and are incredibly sympathetic to the stresses that college life presents,” said VCEMS Quality Assurance Training Officer David March ’14.

According to VCEMS Captain Kate Pula ’15, a typical EMS call usually happens as follows: when a call is placed, a crew of at least two, usually three, technicians responds as quickly and safely as possible to the patient’s location. They first check for the safety of everyone in the area before gathering information from the patient and sometimes bystanders to understand the patient’s history and the events that transpired before the call. At the same time, another technician checks the patient’s vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure, respiration, pupils and responsiveness. The crew determines whether the patient needs further assistance and provides any necessary treatment. If the patient is under any life threat and needs more intensive medical attention, they will call the Arlington Fire Department, the EMS for the surrounding area. A paramedic, who has a higher certification than an EMT, will arrive, examine the patient, and provide transport to the hospital if necessary.

Not every call is serious enough to require hospitalization, however. “Just because we come out doesn’t mean that anyone is going to the hospital. All it means is that they’re going to be checked out by people with a little more training and experience to make sure that they stay safe,” March stated.

EMS technician Aaron Hill ’16, agreed, noting, “We’re more than happy to make sure someone is okay and would prefer to intervene before they need serious medical attention.”

Still, some students remain wary of calling EMS, sometimes because they are simply unsure whether the situation is serious enough to require medical attention. Pula supplied examples of important indicators in these situations. “The college students are one of the healthiest demographics, so if a student is not oriented to where they are, the date, [and] cannot remember previous recent events—these are tell-tale signs that something is wrong,” said Pula.

Hill added, “I would advise people to call EMS whenever they think that someone might need help, particularly if they’re having trouble standing, if they’re vomiting or if they’re in any unreasonable discomfort.”

The fear of disciplinary repercussions could also be a hindrance to seeking medical help. However, in the recent years, Vassar’s administration combated this hesitance by implementing the Good Samaritan policy, a medical amnesty policy that shields the caller and the victim from punishment when they call for help in an alcohol or drug related emergency.

March believes that the extra emphasis on the Good Samaritan policy at the start of the school year has helped the campus community stay safer.  He explained, “A lot of student fellows seem to have drilled this policy into incoming freshmen, and I feel that a lot more people feel comfortable calling than they did three years ago when I started with EMS.”

For those still reluctant to call, however, Pula assured that VCEMS is a confidential medical service. However, that does not mean that the Good Samaritan policy implemented is intended as a get out of jail free card. According to Associate Director of Residential Life and Student Conduct and Housing Richard Horowitz, the Good Samaritan policy has limits. “One area sometimes misunderstood, however, is that this policy has never meant to be used as a automatic no accountability blanket.  For example, if the student in need of help has thrown up in the hallway there will be a disruptive conduct allegation,” wrote Horowitz in an emailed statement.

But that does not mean that the Good Samaritan policy does not serve to encourage students to call for medical help. Horowitz explained, “If you need help due to the alcohol or drugs you’ve consumed, your friends need not worry about you being found responsible for being underage or consuming an illegal drug.  If they provided the alcohol or drugs to you, they need not worry about being found responsible for giving you the alcohol or drugs.  In both cases, there will be a “Not Responsible due to Good Samaritan Policy” finding issued and no sanctions.”

March further warned of the possible repercussions of delaying medical help when it is needed. “Students who delay going to the hospital put themselves at risk of permanently damaging their body, or worse. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to not have a death on campus in very recent history, but this is a real concern that frequently happens at other universities.”

VCEMS remains on call to help prevent this unfortunate truth everyday. Hill, however, sees it more simply. “We’re here to help. We’re just a group of students who want to help others and make sure they’re safe,” he said.

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