Letter to the editor

Delays in getting help can cost lives and create liability

As the public interest attorney who first outlined legal theories under which victims of the “Dark Knight” shooting could sue Colorado University for failing to appreciate and appropriately treat student James Holmes, and as one who has studied other situations where universities were sued when students with psychological problems hurt themselves or others, it is concerning that GW students who experience emotional or psychological problems may have to wait up to six weeks for appointments.

My concern is not only for the students, but also about potential legal liability for GW if it is put on notice of a problem by the student’s call, and then unnecessarily delays providing appropriate assistance. What is even more shocking is that the delays probably could be slashed by applying common sense.

“The office has seen 160 appointments so far this year… But Levine said about 60 of this year’s appointments have been ‘no shows,’ despite phone confirmations – creating delays that keep other students from getting into the office faster,” The Hatchet reported Sept. 24. But there are simple techniques, used by others, to limit “no shows.”

The UCC could require a student to come to the office 60 minutes prior to the time of his or her actual appointment. Those 60 minutes could be used to fill out paperwork and to read over any educational documents. If the student fails to arrive 60 minutes before the appointment, the office could call other students on a wait list. Since many students live on or near campus, a one-hour alert could provide an opportunity to use that time slot. This technique is used by many hospitals, which often require arrival two hours before a scheduled operation.

These simple suggestions obviously just begin to address the problem, and additional actions probably should be taken by GW – not only for the sake of students who are wisely trying to take the first step in obtaining the help they need – but also to reduce the University’s potential legal liability should a mentally unstable student go on to hurt himself or others.

John Banzhaf is a professor of public interest law in the GW Law School.

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