UPD alcohol policies must be amended to prevent unnecessary emergency room trips

Most students know someone on campus who has been turfed away to the emergency room for trivial reasons. So it shouldn’t shock anyone that goes to GW to learn that students are being sent to the hospital for shockingly low levels of intoxication.

The University Police Department’s policies regarding alcohol consumption are ineffective, costly and need to be reformed. GW’s Emergency Medical Response Group, a student run EMS agency, allows students, UPD officers and others to call for emergency medical care for any student in need. Students shared personal accounts and provided documentation with The Hatchet alleging certain UPD policies have far stretched the definition of emergency. This forced students to experience unnecessary and often costly trips to the hospital, sometimes for very low levels of intoxication.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, which operates ambulances that are not affiliated with the University, can charge anywhere between $500 and $1000 for an ambulance ride. Students can be sent to either D.C. FEMS or EMeRG, but they are most likely to be sent to the hospital through EMeRG if they are on campus. Furthermore, students reported hospital bills around $1,000, often for hardly any medical services. UPD’s primary goal should be student safety, but sending students to the hospital to collect heavy bills for minor levels of intoxication does not protect anyone’s safety. UPD should amend current policies to establish a minimum threshold of intoxication required to involuntarily send a student to the hospital and then decide if a student over that threshold needs to go by adhering to the advice of EMTs.

Diverting ambulances and inconveniencing hospitals are direct effects of flawed UPD policies.

At GW, UPD officers have the authority to send students to the hospital over the objections of an EMT. Although UPD officers are mostly trained in first aid and CPR, they have the ability to overrule EMS, even if the medical opinion of the EMS is that a student’s intoxication doesn’t require a trip to the hospital. EMTs are licensed in the District in emergency medical care and have gone through months of training, yet they don’t have the power to overrule a UPD officer when it comes to alcohol related transports. This rule is not present at other schools with EMS units similar to EMeRG, including Tulane, Georgetown, Syracuse and Pennsylvania State universities – where EMTs decide instead. UPD officers are not more qualified to make that call than a trained EMT.

UPD procedure states that any student that shows an increasing blood alcohol content between breathalyzers must be sent to the hospital, according to a copy of the procedure obtained by The Hatchet. That means if a student initially blows a .01 BAC and later blows a .02, UPD would be required to send them to the hospital. This policy is outrageously flawed, as it leaves no room for judgement, or to consider the level of intoxication. UPD should implement a policy change that requires at least a .08 BAC, the legal driving limit in the United States, on both of the breathalyzer tests for the UPD officer to be required to contact emergency services.

In addition, EMeRG and D.C. EMS must be able to overrule UPD officers. If a trained EMT deems the student safe, then UPD officers, who are far less experienced in medical care, should be required to stand down. For example, a student capable of walking to the hospital on their own shouldn’t be forced into an ambulance at the objection of both paramedics and the student. Schools with similar EMS programs, such as Georgetown and Tulane universities, don’t allow officers to overrule medical personnel, and there’s no reason that GW should either.

It doesn’t make sense to waste a medical professional’s time so they can get a barely-intoxicated teenager a cup of juice.

Not only is it an unnecessary, costly medical trip for students, but it is also an inconvenience to the hospitals and EMS units. Each time a student with a .02 BAC is sent to the hospital, it diverts an ambulance or EMeRG vehicle that may be needed in the case of an actual emergency. In the past, hospital staff have expressed frustration from minorly intoxicated students taking up space and time when they are unnecessarily sent to the hospital. It could delay care for someone who actually needs it while inconveniencing both the student and the medical staff. The UPD policies that enable these unnecessary hospital trips, which happen at least once a week according to one UPD officer, are unfair to students. They cause more public safety problems than they solve. Diverting ambulances and inconveniencing hospitals are direct effects of flawed UPD policies.

It is vital that UPD implement changes in its policy to prevent these incidents, which can harm students’ finances and mental health. It’s hard for students to afford costly medical bills and especially hard to reach out to parents for help with a bill acquired due to intoxication. Being hauled away in an ambulance and being told it’s because you’re too intoxicated can be embarrassing and can increase social anxiety. Two GW students reported that being sent to the hospital at GW was a direct cause of their self esteem plummeting and the reason why they applied to transfer from the University.

It doesn’t make sense to waste a medical professional’s time so they can get a barely-intoxicated teenager a cup of juice. UPD’s alcohol policies are flawed and a public safety risk. They need to change so that nobody is billed hundreds of dollars to go to the hospital only to waste time.

Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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