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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Inside EMeRG: A ride-along with student EMTs

Ari Golub | Photographer
The students who staff GW’s emergency services said adjusting to a more lenient alcohol policy builds trust between EMeRG workers and the GW community.

On a typical Saturday night, EMeRG workers may respond to anything from traumatic injuries to a patient falling to an unconscious intoxicated student.

Four student emergency medical technicians, riding in either a full-size ambulance or a smaller van, take inventory of the ambulance’s supplies, like bandages and medications, at the start of each shift. The student EMTs said working for EMeRG is unlike other professional EMT gigs because they learn to assist their peers who need medical care.

The Hatchet rode along on an EMeRG ambulance for four hours on a Saturday evening and talked with some of the student EMTs. Here are some of the main takeaways from the night:

Responding to patients
Junior Mairead Higgins, an EMeRG attendant and the group’s vice president for human resources, said EMeRG workers can’t predict the types of calls they’ll receive on any given night, but they’re often dispatched for intoxication or mental health crises.

“On weekends we often see a lot of suicidal ideation calls and also behavioral calls as well, but also a lot of traumatic injuries,” she said. “People trip and fall.”

Higgins said treating primarily college students is a different experience from professional emergency medical work because there are generally more calls for someone who is over-intoxicated.

“It’s a lot of people who may not have a primary care doctor, so they’re not consistently getting checkups,” Higgins said. “So when there’s like a flare up in some type of chronic medical condition, they don’t know what to do, they’re going to call an ambulance.”

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Nancy Najjar, a junior and the EMeRG president, said many students think EMeRG is solely trained to treat intoxicated people, but all workers are certified EMTs trained to respond to any emergency.

“I think that there is a perception that we only get a certain type of call,” Najjar said. “EMeRG is just trained to treat drunk kids and that’s it. But it’s more than that.”

At about midnight, the crew received their first call of the 10-hour shift for an unconscious intoxicated woman in the lobby of a residence hall. The Hatchet cannot report which residence hall the incident occurred in to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

EMeRG members conducted a medical evaluation to determine the woman’s intoxication level, and after determining she required more in-depth medical help, transported her to the hospital within about 10 minutes of receiving the call.

Between calls, EMeRG workers lounge in their offices, which are furnished with a couch, coffee table and TV, to review medical procedures they might use on the job, catch up on homework or watch movies.

The second call of the night came just after 1 a.m. for a report of a man involved in a physical altercation outside of a residence hall. The man declined help from EMeRG personnel.

Jack Mansfield, the shift’s crew chief, said the crew determined that the patient could refuse care because he could answer basic questions about his location or situation.

“He could tell me where he was, who he was, what time it was and what had happened,” Mansfield said. “And then he said he drank, but because he was fully present, he could tell me what happened.”

EMeRG policy changes
Senior and field supervisor Nate Hammond said GW Police Department officers previously had the final say in deciding whether a patient goes to the hospital. But officials have since shifted the decision making to EMeRG workers after students alleged they were unnecessarily brought to the emergency room for intoxication.

“Now we have a little more sway with the officers in them giving us the medical decision-making than before,” he said.

EMeRG personnel still evaluate each patient in the same manner, despite policy changes, Hammond said.

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“The basic thing for us is that people have a safe way home and if they can be safe at home,” he said.

Najjar, the EMeRG president, said the policy has improved the organization’s image on campus because students trust that EMeRG workers will make the right call when determining whether an intoxicated patient should go to the hospital.

“A lot of people just saw EMeRG just taking people to the hospital regardless of the situation and just because alcohol was consumed,” she said. “People have a lot of negative connotations with EMeRG that they didn’t understand that this was in our clinical operating guidelines and we can’t really deter from that unless they’re changed.”

Najjar said the group has updated to a more thorough examination to promote an EMeRG worker from an attendant to a driver, which ensures that the person deciding whether or not to transfer a patient to the hospital can make the right call.

“The examination itself has a different written exam and a more thorough practical exam as well, which includes mock calls so that our supervisor of operations can fully assess the driver candidate if they’re ready for the position of being a driver,” Najjar said.

Reflecting on the profession
Higgins, the attendant and group’s vice president for human resources, said working on EMeRG has helped her feel more confident in the medical field, which is typically a male-dominated industry.

In 2017, men comprised about 66 percent of the national EMS field, while women comprised about 34 percent, according to Data USA, an aggregator of public data.

“In D.C., it’s a lot of older guys,” Higgins said. “So being able to relate to other college-age new adults kind of gives you a different perspective on health care.”

Higgins said the group organizes an all-women shift once per year on the anniversary of the first time EMeRG ran a female crew.

“EMeRG actually started as a bike team on GW’s campus,” she said. “Not a lot of girls for a really long time.”

Mansfield added that about two-thirds of EMeRG workers are female, a change he attributes to an uptick in GW’s female student population and more women signing up for EMT classes.

“It’s like the same thing reflected both in the applicants that we get,” he said. “We always get many more, female applicants.”

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