Administrators, the University Police Department and the Office of Risk Management will discuss the possibility of acquiring an ambulance for EMeRG at their regular meeting later this month.
But the process of acquiring an ambulance is not easy.
EMeRG leaders said that for six years GW’s student-run emergency response unit has been in pursuit of its own ambulance, but has been unable to acquire one because of bureaucratic roadblocks.
Students who call the on-campus emergency response service, EMeRG, requesting to be taken to the hospital sometimes have to wait 30 to 45 minutes for an ambulance to transport them, and get charged $300 to $400 for the ride, members said.
“If we had an ambulance we could get students to the hospital two minutes away,” said senior Mathew Chow, the former EMeRG public relations director, who added that the service would be free.
While EMeRG officials said they are sure they want and need an ambulance, University administrators, who ultimately have power over EMeRG’s acquisition of an ambulance, said some obstacles must be overcome first.
“There are issues that need to be worked out with the city, some administrative issues that need to be worked out here at GW, and financial issues,” UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said.
Stafford said EMeRG would have to “develop protocols to be agreed (to) by the city.”
For any organization, including EMeRG, to operate an ambulance, it must be certified by national and regional authorities. Chow said this is done through a Department of Transportation certification process as well as a specific certification for D.C. that some of EMeRG’s 70 members have already completed.
UPD oversees EMeRG and partially provides funding for the student organization. The Student Association pays for the remaining costs of the group. While last year the SA granted EMeRG $5,800, the organization was allocated $6,600 this year. Both years the organization requested more than $12,000 for medical supplies and uniforms.
EMeRG makes do without an ambulance by using a 2002 Chevy Tahoe to transport students and medical supplies. About $86,000 per year of the University’s overall budget is directed to EMeRG. EMeRG’s public relations director, graduate student Harland Westgate, said that the initial cost of buying an ambulance would range from $80,000 to $140,000.
D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said he is not against GW getting an ambulance.
“If GW thinks it needs an ambulance, then GW should get an ambulance,” Etter said.
Another GW concern regarding the operation of an EMeRG ambulance involved overcrowded hospitals.
“Sometimes, due to full emergency rooms, ambulances are diverted to other hospitals such as Georgetown or Howard. EMeRG wouldn’t be doing that,” said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.
According to Georgetown’s Emergency Response Medical Service, this is not a problem for its team. If Georgetown University Hospital is too full to accept patients, GERMS ambulances are diverted to nearby Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest or the GW Hospital.
“We’ll most likely be transporting all of our patients to GW Hospital,” said Westgate, who is a first-year Law School student. He added that emergency rooms are obligated to admit any patients whose lives are in the balance.
Georgetown, through GERMS, has had two ambulances since 1983, according to a GERMS media relations representative. At Syracuse University, the school is researching acquiring a third ambulance that is fully operated by all-volunteer students, according to its Web site.
-Brandon Butler contributed to this report.