Dismantling Tulane Emergency Medical Services would be a mistake

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Vice President of Student Affairs Dusty Porter announced Sept. 4 that Tulane Emergency Medical Services is suspended indefinitely. While TEMS undergoes review by the university for Student Conduct violations, Tulane students remain without an ambulance service that is student-run, provides free hospital transport and creates training opportunities for undergraduates. The university needs to be transparent in its review of TEMS to reimplement a service that meets emergency needs while abiding by the ethical standards of a student-run health service.

TEMS offers benefits for both its patients and its members. Students have a major cost advantage when they use TEMS compared to other ambulance services. While students still receive a form of medical amnesty under the renamed and reworked Responsible Action Protocol, the emergency services taking TEMS’ place during the suspension do not provide free transport. According to the 2013-2014 TEMS statistics factsheets, TEMS responded to 694 calls and provided 449 hospital transports in that year alone. It was estimated that the average billing per call would have been $650 for a regular ambulance service. Despite the continued use of the Responsible Action Protocol, the fee associated with using an ambulance could dissuade students from calling 911 when someone is in need.

The argument for bringing back a student-run organization versus New Orleans Emergency Medical Services or a private ambulance service also rests in the educational opportunities for the members. A student-run emergency management service like Tulane’s offers training opportunities not available on most campuses. Peer institutions like Georgetown University, Rice University, Stanford University and Emory University are among the few offering similar programs. In learning to be an emergency medical technician, undergraduates might improve their quick thinking, ability to work under time pressure and technical skills that make them more competitive for medical professions. 

While the university’s emails notifying students of the organization’s suspension is a first step, the cause behind the suspension also needs to be known to students. The violation to which TEMS accepted responsibility for last year should be disclosed as well; a pattern of similar violations points to a lack of scrutiny by the university and a missed opportunity for the community to hold TEMS members accountable. Without knowing the conduct rules broken, students cannot contribute to conversations on how a campus-run EMS service, directly responsible for others, should be held to higher standards.

After the initial conduct hearing in the spring, TEMS members and administrators hired a full-time paramedic to advise and work with students, reworked its hiring process and encouraged more professional leadership in all aspects of the group’s duties. These were great first steps in addressing any student conduct issues. However, further efforts to improve the service should include continued monitoring of TEMS by a professional, reduced shift hours for members and a restructured member training process. With these changes and the necessary transparency of TEMS operations, Tulane should once again enjoy the benefits of a student-run emergency service.