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CU-EMS sees significant increase in calls

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Kaneisha Payton / Columbia Daily Spectator

Columbia University Emergency Medical Service is getting even more popular.

CU-EMS has been dealing with a dramatic swell in call volume—an increase of 59 percent since last year, according to its director Alex Harstrick, CC ’12.

Harstrick attributed this increase to a number of factors, including additional publicity garnered when the organization changed offices last year and when the Good Samaritan policy went into effect earlier this year. The Good Samaritan policy, established in September, made official the practice of not penalizing students who call emergency medical services while in violation of drug or alcohol policies.

“I don’t think anyone really thought that they’d get penalized. It’s just reinforcing the idea,” Daniel Lynn, CC ’13 and CU-EMS crew chief, said.

These extra calls are piling on top of an annual average of approximately 700 calls. And after a recent efficiency-oriented reduction from 65 active members to 42, the first responders of CU-EMS are walking a tightrope between handling the growing call volume and maintaining quality service.

Lynn said that 12-hour shifts have become a common occurrence for him.

“It’s a direct result of not having enough people, that’s the issue,” Lynn said. “But it’s hard to do because you can only promote people who are ready to be promoted. So you’re struggling against logistics and convenience versus making sure people are ready.”

SIPA graduate student Andrew Richardson feels that the increased call volume may be edging in on the time between calls normally used to coach less experienced first-responders, putting greater pressure on more experienced members during urgent calls.

However, Richardson also lauded the upshot of the call increase, stating that many of the medical school-bound members are getting more opportunities for hands-on experience with patient care.

While calls involving intoxication represent 27 percent of the total call volume, they aren’t the major factor behind the growing call volume, members said.

“The vast majority of our calls are medical related calls, serious calls,” Lynn said. “It’s a lot more medical calls. I don’t know what that’s attributed to. Maybe people are more aware of CAVA so they use us more. I hope that’s the reason, not more injuries.”

Despite the onslaught of calls, plenty of students are still eager to take up the CU-EMS commitment. Harstrick stated that the last recruitment season was the most competitive one the organization has ever had.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Harstrick said. “I think that students should feel empowered to get help. We’re getting the same calls that we’ve always been getting, just with a higher intensity.”