BY TESSA SCHWARZ ’17
Mount Holyoke’s Medical Emergency Response Team announced a number of changes last Wednesday that will affect service on campus.
Sunday through Thursday, MERT will now be working with the South Hadley Fire District 2 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., rather than with Campus Police from 6 p.m. to midnight. On Fridays and Saturdays, MERT will maintain its previous shift with Campus Police from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., while also adding a shift with South Hadley Fire.
“Your access to emergency medical care is NOT changing,” a post on the MERT Facebook page stated. “We are simply moving locations and structuring our squad a little differently.
“We will still be on call directly on campus on weekend evenings. As always, if you have a medical emergency, do not hesitate to contact campus police...who can reach us if need be, or the clinician on call...or of course visit the health center during its open hours.”
Under the previous system, “students would call Campus Police, Campus Police would reach us through our radios and we’d get dispatched to emergency calls, but we’d only respond to on-campus calls, and we’d be acting as first responders,” said MERT Director Danielle Arshinoff ’17. But, added Arshinoff, when MERT arrived on scene, they were often limited as to what they were permitted to do.
“A lot of the calls we [receive], especially on the weekends, we usually need to call South Hadley [Fire] anyway because [the patient] needs to get a higher standard of care,” said Arshinoff. “You need either a paramedic or an EMT who can act as an EMT on scene, and the ability to transport them to the hospital, which we can’t do. That was a little frustrating for the EMT members who knew how to help, but were physically not able to do so.”
“Under our old system, we were classified as a First Responder team,” explained MERT Treasurer Isabelle Kim ’18. “What that means is that all of our EMTs on the squad were technically not allowed to do certain things that they were certified to do, but because of some regulations with the school and stuff, we couldn’t expand to our full capabilities.”
Kim said that MERT has been trying for a long time to become a recognized EMT squad, but that the school had been resistant. “Because of insurance reasons and protection reasons, the school didn’t think it was particularly safe for us to be doing that, on our part, or their part or the patient’s part. They have insisted for many years that it’s safer to just be doing what you’re doing now.”
Kim said that becoming affiliated with South Hadley Fire will allow the student EMTs to use their skills, while First Responders can gain experience.
According to the Mount Holyoke website, MERT was founded in 1996. Its members include both EMTs and First Responders, and since its founding, MERT has worked closely with both Campus Police and SHFD2.
“We as an org have been getting a lot of support from South Hadley Fire [District] 2.” said Kim. “They’ve been a huge support to us, really wonderful. They’ve trained with us, they meet with us, they host us for our general meetings, and we thought it was about time that we volunteer with them and just contribute back, like they’ve done to us for such a long time.”
Arshinoff and Kim could only name one potential negative with the changes to MERT.
“I think the only downside we have is, what if our students don’t know about this change?” said Kim. “The transition and the getting the word out to people is probably the only downside that I know of right now. Once that’s taken care of, I think it can only go up from here, but I’m also biased because I’m super excited for the project.”
“I think we all are,” Arshinoff added.
Hannah Seay ’17, former director of MERT, was also initially excited when she heard about the changes.
“Immediately I was excited, because I was director last year for part of the year, and part of our E-board’s mission was to shift to a full EMT squad,” said Seay, who was a member of MERT for three years, but left the organization this spring. “We were a First Responder squad, and that was frustrating because most of us were EMTs and we went through a lot of schooling to become EMTs, but we couldn’t use our skills, so it was exciting to hear that we were in line to transition to an EMT squad.”
Though she was thrilled at first, Seay was also surprised by the news of MERT’s new direction. “I know a lot of members weren’t aware of the changes until they were almost in place, so it was a bit of a random email rather than a gradual [process]...I think it was like the E-board planned it, and then proposed it and then went forward with it the next week. It was very sudden.”
Seay’s feelings on the changes to MERT remain mixed. “I think there are pros and cons to the change,” she said. “The pros would be of course that we get to ride on an ambulance, we’re getting broader exposure, we’re getting to go on calls in South Hadley and Holyoke, and that’s really great, because on the campus...the max I had was one call a shift, and I didn’t really get exposure to pediatrics or to the older population, it was all college calls. So I think that’s really great, especially for pre-med students, to get that experience.”
Among the cons Seay named are the increased time commitment and the possibility of decreased student calls. “They’re four hour shifts now,” said Seay, “and I’ve talked to a lot of members that are on the squad now, and if you get a call in the last thirty minutes [of your shift], it could potentially go out two hours past that, so you really have to have longer than a four-hour commitment, which can be difficult with a college schedule.”
The other con, Seay said, is that some students would call them because they knew the responders would be college students, and not the South Hadley police.
“They felt comfortable calling us for, not true emergencies, but little calls or things they would get in trouble for, and they didn’t feel comfortable calling 911 for, they would call us, and I think that was re- ally special for us to go to those calls just as Mount Holyoke community members, to help our campus. Now if they call during the week, South Hadley is dispatched and I think that could limit some of the calls we’re getting on campus.”
Arshinoff and Kim had some advice for students who are hearing about these changes for the first time.
“We just want everyone to be safe on campus and to do what we can to help them out,” said Arshinoff.
“Don’t be afraid to call us,” said Kim. “There’s nothing happy about needing to take care of somebody who’s not feeling well, that’s not a happy thing, but as volunteers, we’re so happy to help you if somebody needs it.”
Still, some students have doubts about whether the new system will be able to get that help to students. “I feel the minor incidents are not going to be addressed properly because of the fear that it may not be a severe enough incident to bring in MERT along with assistance from District 2,” said Camila Mirow ’19, who is a certified dive medic. “Having District 2 accompany MERT makes the situation feel official, which is important. When people are faced with distress or a serious medical issue, it helps to know what kind of help you will be getting.”
Additionally, Mirow said, students may fear repercussions now that South Hadley Fire will regularly be accompanying MERT. “People are very reluctant to seek help if they feel they may get in trouble. Students will be less likely to get help for the person in distress, and [getting help] is something that you [want to encourage] in a medical emergency,” said Mirow. “We had a situation last year — someone was really sick, and we didn’t know what to do. I had not been certified as a medic during that time and didn’t have the proper training to help them, so MERT was called. They were able to help and assured us that they would call District 2, if it was medically necessary. People’s first instinct should be getting the person help without the fear of any negative repercussions.”
“On the other hand,” Mirow added, “I do think that it’s great training for the EMTs to gain experience by working with District 2. I feel that proper training and assisting with real calls are important. Although beneficial, in terms of dealing with students, there should be a MERT to student interaction, where MERT can decide if they want to make that call or not, depending on the situation.”
On how the changes are going to affect student safety, Seay said, “I think it’s pretty mixed. For example, ETOH [alcohol emergency] calls ... people might be afraid to call knowing that South Hadley’s dispatched, and they could be in legal trouble. So I think with calls like that, they could be potentially less likely to call. In other cases, I think it could enhance the safety because from the beginning, South Hadley was dispatched to any call that was beyond our control, because as First Responders, there’s not too much we could do, so it’s not really that different. The only difference now is how we’re perceived as being associated with them.”