Justin Guiffre: Don’t EMeRG me, bro!

This is the second column in a three-part series on GW’s medical amnesty policy. Last week, the author discussed need lack of a true amnesty policy at GW. Next week, the author will lay out the basic criteria for a rewrite of the policy, discussing the positive and negative changes made this year.

E-MeR-G-ed [i-mur-juh-id] – verb, the process of being assessed and automatically transported to GW Hospital by the Emergency Medical Response Group after consuming alcohol. Used in a sentence: “Last night I was EMeRGed. FML.”

The way students think of the EMeRG process is demonstrative of how poorly the alcohol policies at GW are written and administered. GW’s medical amnesty policy causes an inefficient distribution of medical resources, suspiciously makes money for the University and scares students into not calling for help when potentially necessary.

The volunteer students at EMeRG are some of the hardest-working individuals on campus, and I know because I live with one. He regularly spends his entire Friday night (sunset to sunrise) assessing and transporting students who are in potentially life-threatening condition to GW Hospital. Often, these students scream at him while he is making sure they wake up the following morning. And he does this for no pay.

While you may think that the kind of anger and resentment some students display towards the EMeRG staff is a universal phenomenon on campuses, it is actually a much larger issue at GW than other places because of the poor policy.

If there is a single issue in how EMeRG is regulated, it is the requirement to transport to GW Hospital anyone who is assessed for alcohol consumption, regardless of their condition and the findings of the assessment. People on EMeRG are trained to evaluate the seriousness of a person’s condition, but even if they deem a person as not “dangerously intoxicated,” they are still required to take that person to the hospital.

This policy is a complete waste of medical resources. When EMeRG spends time driving drunk students to the hospital, the EMeRG staffers are being taken away from potentially more important calls. This perverse responsibility also makes students afraid to call for an assessment in the first place. Consider the difference it would make if EMeRG was only obligated to transport people who truly needed to be hospitalized for their condition, as is the case with similar organizations at other universities.

One of the suspect elements of transporting every assessed student to GW Hospital is how it benefits GW. There is a common narrative to the experience of many students who have gone through the EMeRG process. They are transported to the hospital, examined by a doctor or nurse for all of a few minutes and then told to sit and wait for the next several hours. Along with a severe hangover, they can expect a bill for the medical services, sometimes upwards of $400. Ultimately, GW gets paid for every person brought to the hospital.

Thus, GW has the incentive to send students to the hospital regardless of their actual condition. This has resulted in a fear of seeking help because people are needlessly taken to the hospital and then charged for the expense. I guarantee that students would be far less afraid to seek help if people only in life-threatening condition were brought to the hospital. On the other hand, if no policy change is made, sooner or later a student will die because those around them were afraid of an unfair assessment and unnecessary charge.

Looking for a good application of an amnesty policy, one need only look down M Street to Georgetown University. The EMeRG equivalent at Georgetown is the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service, better known as GERMS. The Georgetown student’s relationship with the volunteer GERMS group is worlds apart from the GW student’s relationship with EMeRG. Most importantly, GERMS is not required to transport all students that are assessed to the hospital. The amnesty policy of Georgetown is such that students don’t fear calling GERMS.

The current question at many universities is to decide whether narcotics are included in their medical amnesty policy. The inclusion of illicit drugs in such a policy is an important element in ensuring a safe atmosphere for students seeking help. This argument remains the same for a person who is underage but intoxicated: You want the student and those around him or her to feel comfortable in seeking help when it is necessary.

I understand that the illegal status of such drugs makes it more difficult to provide amnesty for those who use them, but to the extent GW can reduce internal sanctions for a first-time drug abuse, it should. People may be hesitant about adding drugs to the policy, but it is necessary to have an amnesty policy that covers as many dangerous elements as possible without deterring students from making a life-saving call. The mixture of drugs and alcohol is especially dangerous, and other universities have recognized this fact and responded with policy changes that encourage people to seek help when faced with this deadly combination.

Right now, the atmosphere surrounding the EMeRG process is harmful because the people trained to assess alcohol consumption and drug use cannot respond at an appropriate level for the situation. The policy needs to be changed so that instead of students being “assessed and automatically transported to GW Hospital,” they are “assessed and, depending on the evaluation of trained professionals, either released or transported to GW Hospital for further care.” This is how other universities have effectively worked to ensure a good relationship between students and emergency care units. It is time to rewrite the definition of being EMeRGed.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

Readers can visit the Forum to comment on this column.


Speaking Out

We are interested in hearing your
first-hand experiences with the alcohol amnesty policy at GW.

Have you ever been EMeRGed or called EMeRG for a friend? Have you ever dealt with GW’s medical amnesty policy? Have you ever decided not to call EMeRG in a potentially life-threatening situation?

Send a 200- to 300-word testimonial to opinions@gwhatchet.com

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