Washington University adopts medical amnesty protocol

In an attempt to encourage students to seek medical help for alcohol-related emergencies, Washington University has implemented a medical amnesty and active bystander protocol.

As of May 11, 2015, the new protocol dictates that all patients and individuals reporting alcohol-related emergencies will not be subject to disciplinary action by the University regarding the alcohol violation itself.

The University hopes that the policy, which officials say has been in effect prior to the written protocol’s publication, will encourage students to seek help without fear of judicial reprimand. However, the protocol states amnesty may be suspended if emergency services are used repeatedly, and it does not offer amnesty for related non-alcohol violations such as hazing or sexual assault.

Mike Hayes, executive director of Campus Life, explained the overall changes—or lack thereof—that came from the new protocol.

“The only thing that’s changed is now that the protocol is in writing versus it wasn’t before…but it was practiced,” Hayes said.

Regardless, a lack of awareness of this practice amongst the student body created a dangerous dynamic. For instance, Hayes revealed that there were various instances of students moving sick people to a different place to avoid administrative repercussions, putting student lives in danger on a regular basis.

While the protocol applies both on and off campus for all Washington University students, it does not govern the response of local law enforcement agencies. However, Emergency Support Team (EST), Washington University Police Department, Residential Life staff members and all other University officials are trained to seek medical care for the patient first and foremost. Subsequently, both the individual or organization calling and the patient will be immune to punishment from the University.

With the practiced protocol now official and broadcasted to students, the University hopes to reassure students that health and safety are the main priority for both parties.

Although it is impossible to judge the effect the new protocol will have at the University, a 2006 case study at Cornell University run from 2000 to 2004 reported a 61 percent drop in students who would not seek help for an alcohol-related emergency once the medical amnesty program, which provides assurance that judicial sanctions would not be issued, was implemented.

The study, however, also proposed that the increase in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls after the policy was implemented may have resulted from an increase in heavy drinking amongst students prompted by knowledge of lesser repercussions.

In response to the possibility of students taking advantage of the protocol, Hayes referenced a mutual trust between students and administrators.

“The concept and the practice has been that we have to assume goodwill that people are not going to abuse [the program],” Hayes said. “If their interests and their heads are in the right place, it’s about health and safety first of their peers.”

Senior Celso Torres echoed Hayes’ sentiments.

“I think it’s something that’s great because now people won’t be hesitant to call WUPD or EST when someone’s too sick because they’re scared of getting in trouble,” Torres said. “Now we’re going to put priority on the health of an individual who is sick rather than the legality of getting in trouble with the school.”

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Alex SiegmanComment