Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 23:08
Every second counts when a student needs medical attention, but a flawed DPS policy can make students think twice about getting help when their health is in jeopardy.
It has become standard procedure for Department of Public Safety officers to accompany the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service on calls — which would be fine, except that DPS reserves the right to report students for what they discover at the scene. In potential matters of life and death, students should not hesitate to phone for help for fear of being caught drinking underage or using illegal drugs.
It is a common misconception that calling GERMS grants students amnesty from being written up for Code of Student Conduct violations. Georgetown’s “Be Well” website even wrongly states that “no disciplinary action will ever occur as a result of calling GERMS.”
And although GERMS is listed as having a separate phone number from that of DPS, campus police actually answer all phone calls for GERMS and subsequently dispatch student responders. That’s deceitful, and it misleads students concerning the security of calling for medical help.
DPS accompanies GERMS responders primarily for the student responders’ own protection, and students should be expected to tolerate the presence of police during a medical response. But to address this problem, students requiring medical attention need the protection of immunity. That can have dramatic implications, but it’s a necessary safeguard for students’ overall well-being.
For example, if a student drank one shot too many and his roommate called GERMS, those students should be protected from punishment, even if they’re not of age and alcohol is still present at the scene upon GERMS’ arrival. It may sound extreme, but immunity would need to cover the presence or use of any illegal drugs. Again, student safety should trump considerations for this type of transgression, however unlawful their cause of illness may be.
On the other hand, immunity should not cover the discovery of drug possession with the intention to distribute, weapons or a violent encounter. These represent an impending danger to the campus at large, and it is completely within the rightful authority of DPS to take appropriate action.
In the case that students believe DPS has acted unfairly, an appeals process is already in place to protect them. If nothing else, the rules concerning DPS and GERMS must be more transparent, and students should know exactly whom they’re inviting into their homes when they call for help.
Hospitals recognize the necessity of patient confidentiality, because nobody should have to think twice about receiving emergency medical treatment for fear of punishment. DPS should share this concern for safety, not intimidation.
In light of the recent attempts to push nightlife on campus, enacting a more effective system to ensure student safety should be at the top of the administration’s to-do list.