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CAVA Toasts Arrival of New Ambulance

Monday, November 10, 2003
Risheen Maheswaran / Columbia Spectator

Current CAVA members, alumni, and administrators from Security and Health Services came together Friday afternoon to inaugurate CAVA's new ambulance and to celebrate the emergency medical squad's 40th anniversary.

The event was as much a celebration of the vehicle's arrival as a recognition of the three-and-a-half years of hard work that went into navigating Columbia's extensive bureaucracy and convincing the University to buy the ambulance for CAVA.

While most ambulances are in service for six to seven years, CAVA's last ambulance served the Columbia community for nine years. It had dire technical problems towards the end of its service, and in the winter of 2000-2001 it was out of commission as often as once a week.

"We were not only EMTs," said Bree Akesson, CC '01 and former executive director of CAVA, "we also had to become well-trained mechanics." Each time the ambulance broke down, CAVA was unable to operate, and the fire department had to respond to emergency calls.

As well as being free from such technical difficulties, the new ambulance is also better fitted for CAVA's purposes. Because the back is larger, more caregivers can work on a patient at a time, a feature that is especially important for training purposes. There is also more room to store medications and a heating and cooling system to keep them at the right temperature.

The push for the new ambulance began in 2000. Around that time CAVA officially changed its name to Columbia University Emergency Medical Service in order to reflect a closer affiliation between the group and the University.

"CAVA had recently won an award for patient care, transport, and maintenance from [the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation], in February of 2000, and a mutual respect between the University and CAVA was growing," Akesson said. CAVA took advantage of Columbia's respect when it needed the University to help purchase the new ambulance.

"The first step was integrating ourselves more into Health Services to bring about such a significant purchase," said Jordan Brafman, CC '04 and current executive director of CAVA. The ambulance, fully equipped, cost about $110,000, the funds for which came from various sources not specifically associated with Health Services.

"It's amazing that this ambulance was bought," said Mark Burstein, vice-president of Facilities Management. "There is a huge list of people involved in funding it--lots of bureaucracy. [This purchase is] about learning this institution and making it work for you."

"The biggest challenge was getting [Health Services], Security and the University to agree that it was the right moment to spend money for something that is good for the community," said Dr. Jane Bedell, former director of Health Services.

"Health Services and Security are on opposite sides of the University, but they come together in CAVA," Brafman said. "There was a need to facilitate communication."

CAVA representatives seem to have fulfilled this job ably. "There was a lot more animosity surrounding the purchase of the last ambulance," said Margo Amgott, Assistant Vice President of Health Services. "This time around it was much better. It laid the groundwork for a better relationship between Security and Health Services."

According to CAVA participants, the negotiations engendered additional respect for the organization on the part of the University. "Working closely with University administrators on a proposal for a new ambulance proved to them that we weren't just a bunch of students playing around on an ambulance, but that we were a group of extremely hard-working professional Emergency Medical Technicians dedicated to the well-being of the Columbia community," Akesson said.

CAVA has recently expanded its services. Over the summer, the university provided CAVA volunteers with housing and Dining Dollars so that they could keep operating during the break. CAVA hopes to remain operational over Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations this year and to answer calls year-round starting in 2004.

Friday was an opportunity for all those involved in CAVA to celebrate the advances the organization has made.

"I am proud to dedicate this ambulance as a symbol, first and foremost, of the way that Columbia students truly care for one another. In this vehicle may the CAVA corps continue to minister to the Columbia community," Amgott said. "Secondly, I dedicate this ambulance and this evening to the cooperative, thoughtful collaboration among students, administrators, and staff from Security and Health Services, Facilities and Student Services."

The event also honored the organization's past achievements. Brafman gave a speech on the history of CAVA, and alumni were presented with CAVA pins.

"The impetus for this event may be the arrival of the ambulance after three-and-a-half years of planning," said Joshua Marks, CC '03, "but we also need to reconnect with the alumni and congratulate ourselves for 41 years of service to the Columbia community."

"We provide a higher level of care because we're so closely associated with Health Services," Brafman said. "When a student calls for an ambulance, we let the university know and different departments can provide follow-up care."

CAVA is unique in that it gives its clients the sort of personal attention that it is impossible for the city's EMS teams to provide.

The group can also respond to emergencies more quickly than the city because it is located on campus.

"CAVA really provides community-sensitive care," Bedell said. "It is one of my favorite organizations at the university."