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Student EMS Leases New Ambulance

By Beckett Sterner


The Student Emergency Medical Service has received the funding necessary to lease a new ambulance and parking bay. The new equipment will allow the group to meet state standards.

Chief of SEMS Samuel A. Schweighart G said that MIT Medical has pledged approximately $80 thousand towards leasing the new ambulance, and while the cost of the parking bay has not yet been determined, several Institute departments have agreed to provide funding. In its initial proposal, SEMS had requested $200 thousand in new funding for the ambulance and parking bay.

The current ambulance is over ten years old and would not have passed state inspections this fall. The current ambulance bay, located in the nuclear reactor complex, is distant, not a secure location and does not allow for temperature controlled storage, Schweighart said.

Schweighart said that the new bay may be built in a location near buildings E32 and E34, across from MIT Medical. The ambulance is currently being built, he said, and will be likely be ready by the end of Sept. Construction has not begun yet on the parking bay.

SEMS must be cost effective

Schweighart said that SEMS plans to run a daytime shift during the term, ultimately providing around the clock service. As SEMS reaches 24-hour coverage, the service must compete against the expenses of a private company to remain in operation.

“Historically, we had paid an outside [ambulance] service when the police were unavailable,” said Maryanne Kirkbride, clinical director for campus life. The overall cost of SEMS is expected to be lower because the students are volunteers whereas the private service must pay for wages; or “that is the theory,” Kirkbride said.

The true operating expenses for SEMS will not become clear until it has reached its final size and level of service. She said that SEMS “needs to be budget neutral or better” compared with expense of a private service to receive full support from MIT Medical. “The thing that helps us in that regard is that the state has approved a fee hike in the rate for private ambulances,” she said. Previously, the state had held the fee constant for many years, effectively lowering the cost through inflation each year.

Schweighart said that SEMS had received a budget of about $50 thousand this year from MIT Medical to cover such expenses as gasoline and medical supplies.

Privacy drove creation of SEMS

In 2002, SEMS replaced an equivalent service provided by the MIT Police, in part because of concerns over the dual role of police officers as medical treatment providers and law enforcers.

According to MIT Police Captain David A. Carlson, under the previous emergency response system, a call to the emergency line could result in MIT police officers arriving in the ambulance as emergency medical technicians. This could lead to conflicts where the student would be unwilling to tell the EMTs their full problem if it included illegal activities, which could hamper successful medical treatment, Carlson said.

“With the student EMTs,” he said, students calling for help “will be more likely ... to assist in their [own] treatment.” However, “the way the system is being set up the police are still the dispatch for the ambulance,” so the police remain notified of all calls for assistance, he said.

Also, the EMTs on duty must submit a report on any calls they receive to MIT Medical, although the reports are covered under the state medical confidentiality law. This would require a special action by the police such as a warrant to access the reports, Carlson said.

EMTs serve at athletic events

Beyond the ambulance service, however, student EMTs have started to attend MIT athletic games to provide an on-site response to medical emergencies. Head Athletic Trainer Thomas Cronan said that it was standard for universities to have EMTs present at games.

“If MIT has to go to another school, it’s the same thing they would expect,” he said. It is important that “the personnel that were there were not serving a dual role” as both police officer and EMT, Cronan said.