Students lobby for medical care team

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The Daily Pennsylvanian

By Marissa Montenegro

A number of students on campus want Penn to join the more than 150 colleges and universities throughout the United States that have their own student-run emergency medical services.

Those hoping to form a Penn Medical Emergency Response Team have been lobbying administrators for about a year to allow them to implement a first-response service that would be fully staffed by student emergency medical technicians.

Students stress that they have yet to ascertain whether administrators are for or against the proposal, though some officials have expressed reservations.

"We have not gotten, by any means, a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down on this plan," MERT Co-Chairman and College sophomore Andrew Mener said.

At the suggestion of administrators, MERT advocates have been working over the past year to gauge the necessity and feasibility of their plan.

Specifically, MERT organizers have worked to obtain concrete statistical data about response times under the current system, demonstrate a wide student interest in participating in the program and provide EMT training for interested students.

All three of these tasks are either accomplished or nearing completion, so Michael Fink, Penn Police deputy chief of tactical and emergency readiness, suggested to MERT organizers that their proposal may be ready for more extensive review.

Mener believes the proposal is likely to be successful, because it will not detract from the current procedure, but may improve upon it.

"We would not be changing the current system at all ... so there can be no possible disadvantage," Mener said. The proposal would simply be "adding an additional layer of response."

Currently, when someone has a medical emergency on campus, they call 511 from a campus phone line or (215) 573-3333 from a local phone.

After verifying that a situation is indeed an emergency, a University of Pennsylvania Police Department dispatcher will send a police officer and notify the Philadelphia Fire Department. The Fire Department dispatches both a fire engine with an EMT and an ambulance with a paramedic.

In general, EMTs conduct basic life support procedures, while paramedics perform advanced life support procedures.

MERT advocates think their proposed system would supplement these current practices by placing student EMTs on the scene before the other emergency personnel.

Because MERT members would be using bicycles for transportation, organizers foresee being able to arrive first to an emergency, since many locations on campus are inaccessible directly by motor vehicles.

Despite enthusiasm for the proposal, some University officials remain uncertain about the necessity of such a program on campus.

"We need to establish whether or not there is a true critical need to have that level of response," said Evelyn Wiener, director of Student Health Services.

"It has not been established that there is a need and, if there is one, whether a student-run EMT program is the best way to resolve that," she added.

In order to evaluate the situation, a group of University officials -- including representatives from SHS, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the UPPD -- met with MERT organizers last fall. It was at that time that officials charged the group with the three tasks to try to gauge the program's utility.

One major concern was articulated by Ron Jasner, associate director of risk management.

"Nobody wants them to become 'the Drunk Squad,'" Jasner said, referring to the reputation of similar services at other universities that primarily tend to inebriated students.

Yet, Mener contends, "there are dozens and dozens of ways that people need EMS that have nothing to do with alcohol."

Mener also noted that MERT still may not have a definite answer from administrators in the near future.

"It's a slow process, but I prefer that we cross every 't' and dot every 'i' than rush into it," he said.

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