Alcohol-related emergency transports focus on ensuring student safety

With the administration recently having formed a working group to investigate the campus drinking culture, discussions of alcohol’s presence on campus have become increasingly significant. The working group formed as part of the administration’s response to data collected from a survey conducted throughout the NESCAC to ascertain alcohol’s role on NESCAC campuses  (“Working group forms to address role of alcohol on campus,” Nov. 7). Inevitably, an important facet of these conversations will be the number of students who require emergency transportation to the hospital to receive treatment for excessive intoxication.

Recently, Campus Safety and Security has expressed concerns to College Council (CC) regarding the tax that the College’s drinking culture places on nearby hospitals and ambulances. “There have been a couple occasions in the last year [that] we received a call from the hospital asking us not to send any more students up because they were overwhelmed,” Dave Boyer, director of Security, said. “We’ve had a couple of those calls in the past. It’s not necessarily that we were overwhelming the ambulance service, but it was the service at the emergency room.”

According to Shawn Godfrey, operations manager for Village Ambulance Service, Williamstown typically keeps three ambulances on call. The ambulances can be staffed either with paramedics or with EMTs. After 4 p.m., which is when most calls concerning the health of intoxicated students are received, Village Ambulance only staffs two ambulances. If an additional ambulance beyond the two on-call ambulances is needed, whether for students at the College or residents of Williamstown, Village Ambulance relies on mutual aid and receives emergency assistance from North Adams.

Protocol

According to Boyer, the decision whether a student needs to be transported to the hospital due to intoxication is typically made by Security officers. “Very often, a student will call and actually request an ambulance,” Boyer said. “In the cases when they don’t, occasionally the caller will give us enough information so that a dispatcher would take it upon themselves to call 911 and get an ambulance … [Other times] we do an assessment of the person and come over and check. If the officer who responds or supervisor isn’t comfortable allowing the person to stay in the care of other students, they’ll call and ask for an ambulance or for the EMT or paramedics to do an assessment.”

According to Godfrey, whether a student requires transport via ambulance for medical attention is based on the student’s mental acuity. “If we get there and the patient is conscious, alert and oriented and able to answer questions, then we determine they’re in the right mind so they make the decision on whether or not they want to be transported,” he explained.

Boyer emphasized that should the student require transport from an illegal or unregistered party – which Boyer explained are the events from which the majority of transports is required – Security’s focus is always exclusively on the health of the student requiring assistance. “Our focus is exclusively on the care for the person in need of medical treatment,” Boyer said. “That is also the focus of the ambulance staff who attend.”

Demand on Village Ambulance

While Village Ambulance serves the entirety of Williamstown, it has adapted its services to care for the large college population in Williamstown. In particular, Godfrey noted that Village Ambulance and Security often communicate about large events, such as Homecoming, in order to ensure that Village Ambulance has adequate services prepared. “We usually base [whether we increase our staffing] on what activities are going on at the school,” Godfrey said. “Dave Boyer and I work closely on that. In the middle of the week, he might e-mail me that Homecoming is coming up this weekend, and we staff accordingly. We beef up our staff if we know that there’s going to be a larger population on campus.”

While Godfrey stressed that between Village Ambulance and mutual aid there is always adequate staffing to provide for the medical needs of the community, he mentioned that having two ambulances responding to intoxicated students can tax Village Ambulance’s services. “I can recall two ambulances being out for two separate students at the same time, which is taxing to us because we only run two crews after 4 p.m.,” Godfrey said. “Essentially, [in that situation,] both of our ambulances are tied up dealing with students or medical calls … It’s infrequent. It definitely has occurred before. It means that if another call came in within the community, then mutual aid would need to be called in.”

Follow-up with Security

After a student is transported to the hospital due to intoxication, students are typically required to have follow-up meetings with the deans, the Health Center and Security.

Security’s follow-up meeting typically entails an attempt to understand the situation in which the excessive intoxication occurred. “Generally, we do talk with the person, understand the circumstances of [the transport],” Boyer said. “In cases when it’s been clearly dangerous drinking, when there’s been something that was very out of control, we have mandated some students go through the Drink Smart program. It’s a five-hour program presented by [Health Educator] Laini Sporbert at the Health Center.”

According to Dean Bolton, this meeting is largely informative for the student. “Students also typically have a conversation with [Associate Director of Security] Tony Sinicio,” she said. “Because Security officers respond, he can often say, ‘Here’s what we saw. Here’s what we’re concerned about.’ That’s really mostly an informational conversation. There’s not a disciplinary record for any part of any of these conversations.”

Boyer said that in particular, Security is required to address the transport if the student who was intoxicated was underage. “We record [the transport and] note the conversation and the violation. If somebody is 21 years of age and they’ve been transported to the hospital, there are no issues or sanctions or violations that Security would address,” Boyer said. However, Bolton stressed that the deans’ office does not note the incident in the student’s official transcript. “There’s nothing in the record that occurs as a result of the transport or the dean or the conversation with security,” Bolton said.

Follow-up with the Health Center

Students who are transported to the hospital due to intoxication are required to meet with Sporbert, who focuses on educating students in regard to alcohol and drug use. “All students are required to attend a one-hour follow-up appointment with me after being evaluated or transported for intoxication,” Sporbert explained. “There are no other requirements by the Health Center, but sometimes, students are referred to Drink Smart via Campus Safety and Security or the deans’ office for the incident.”

Sporbert explained that the purpose of meeting with the student is to educate the student about alcohol use or substance abuse. “In the one-hour session, the student and I discuss the incident, complete a brief substance abuse assessment and fill in any gaps of educational knowledge about alcohol in order to prevent another situation similar to the one that resulted in the evaluation or transport,” Sporbert said.

Follow-up with the deans’ office

Students who require medical transport due to intoxication are also required to meet with the deans’ office. “Students meet with a dean to talk about what happened – to see how much they remember because often students don’t really remember how they came to that place or what happened, which can be quite scary,” Bolton said. “So we talk them through what was observable from the outside and also find out what else is going on with them. There are things that we should be helpful with, regarding whatever stresses they were going through and if someone was pushing them to drink. We try to get a sense of what happened in the immediate moment and what’s happening with them.”

After the conversation, the deans notify the student’s guardians via letter, as the College has an obligation to report to guardians if a student’s safety has been in question. The deans’ letter explains that the student was transported to the hospital due to intoxication, though the letter does not reveal the level of intoxication or the substance abused and provides guardians with a list of on-campus resources for their student.

“We give students as much control over that process as we can,” Bolton said. “We usually say, ‘We will be in contact with your parents, but you can contact them first’ … That letter is not punitive in any way; that letter is to help parents understand what happened and often actually to try to make it less scary … There are cases where we don’t send [a letter] if we think it would be a damaging thing. We make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.”

Outlook and trends

In terms of how the numbers of transports due to intoxication are required at the College as compared to those necessitated at peer institutions, Bolton indicated that while she could not make specific figures available at this time, “our numbers are very similar to our peer institutions on average.”

While Boyer was not able to provide statistics on the number of students who require transport due to intoxication, he estimated that this fall has seen a reduction in the number of students requiring transport due to intoxication. “It hasn’t been that bad of a fall compared to others we’ve had,” he said. “I don’t know the numbers, but it’s far less than this time last year.”

Bolton, Sporbert and Godfrey also agreed that students have required fewer ambulances due to intoxication this semester. “We do have numbers, but anecdotally, I can say it’s definitely true there have been fewer students transported this fall than in previous years,” Godfrey said.

Ruth Harrison, director of the Health Center, emphasized that while first-year students may be inexperienced with alcohol, requiring medical attention for intoxication is a campus-wide problem. “Every year, both upper- and underclassmen use alcohol in unsafe ways and require medical attention,” Harrison said.

Boyer stated that the main trend in students who require emergency transport is the student’s experience level with drinking. “Experience level has something to do with it,” he said. “The early part of the year, some students who have less experience are more apt to be in a situation where they drink more, just because they have no threshold. They don’t know what they can safely drink.”

Recognizing the potential danger of inexperience in drinking, the Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB) trains Junior Advisors (JAs) to recognize the signs of excessive intoxication.

“No matter what your policies are, alcohol finds its way into the entry, and you just have to be prepared to handle things,” Scott Fyall ’13, JAAB co-president, said. “It’s a scary thing. And it’s not something you want to have happen, but I think this year’s JAs have done a great job of making sure that the [first-years] stay safe.”

Fyall mentioned that training JAs to deal with alcohol-related issues in the entry is an important part of JA training, but he also expressed concern that the burden of discouraging unhealthy drinking or attending to intoxicated first-years falls too heavily on JAs. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Fyall said. “It’s really frustrating as a JA when someone takes your [first-year] and tells them that they need to drink because that’s tradition. And we need to work on making those not our traditions and on saying that that’s not the culture. Those aren’t traditions we want. So it’s important for the JAs to have the best training possible, but it’s also got to be something that other student group or campus leaders are trained to handle.”

Bolton also noted a positive trend that Security has received more calls this fall for Security to attend to students wither lower blood alcohol content levels than in it has in previous years, which she believes indicates a positive trend in students’ relationship with Security.

“We’ve seen more calls where Security or the ambulance checked out the student and decided that the person was okay and could go with their friends,” Bolton said. “We’ve also seen more students transported with relatively lower blood alcohol content levels, so [they’re receiving] more care at a lower threshold. And both of those things are encouraging to us in terms of people seeking help.”

Harrison expressed optimism that the administration’s creation of a working group to address alcohol use will help create a safer drinking culture on campus.

“The College administration has formed a working group to address the issues of alcohol use on campus,” she said. “I am hopeful that this group will engage the whole community in a serious look at the campus alcohol culture.”

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