VEMS calls decrease in recent years

Tara Powers

The number of total calls VEMS receives annually has decreased markedly over the past three years.

There were 730 calls placed during the ’06-’07 academic year, as compared to 580 in the ’07-’08 year.

So far only 280 calls have been received during the ’08-’09 year, while there were 376 at this time last year.

“At least between our amount this year and last year, the amount of calls was decreased,” senior VEMS Captain Mary Kate Funari said. “But you have to remember that last year we had the norovirus.”

Furthermore, intoxication-related VEMS calls have decreased significantly.

From August 2008 until the present, 23 percent of calls have been related to alcohol, less than one-fourth of total calls.

Between August and early February of the ’06-’07 year, 26 percent of 398 total calls were alcohol-related.

The calls VEMS receives during New Student Orientation – which Funari emphasizes are not all intoxication-related – have also decreased slightly, down to 11 from this year’s orientation as opposed to 15 in both years prior.

VEMS is run entirely by about 40 undergraduate student volunteers like Funari, most of whom are certified EMTs.

They are headquartered in the Health Services Building, where furnished bedrooms and a kitchen provide the amenities necessary for staff members who work unusual hours.

The group has been a campus staple since 1989, when it was founded by then-student Brian Herrick under the name First Responders.

At first, the student-run medical care was focused on athletic and other special events, but it expanded to general emergency medical services upon receiving Quick Response Service certification in 1994.

“In the spring of 1988, several members of the Special Olympics medical staff that were all previous EMTs in their hometowns prior to coming to Villanova realized a lack of emergency care on campus,” said Coordinator for Emergency Medical Services and VEMS adviser John Gillespie, who helped found VEMS. “Radnor Ambulance from Wayne provided service to the University, and because they are a busy ambulance squad, many times their response times to campus calls were over 20 minutes. We realized that an on-campus squad would be better for the safety of students, staff and visitors.”

“Versus Radnor, our calls are very different from their calls,” junior VEMS member Andrea Beaupre said. “We’re a safety net for the campus. If something’s wrong, you call us and we help you figure it out. We don’t have as many ALS [Advanced Life Support] calls, while Radnor would have more of those.”

Average response time for a VEMS crew is less than five minutes, and services are offered free of charge to patients.

Most of the VEMS calls are taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital, although more serious cases may be transported to trauma centers such as the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Since VEMS is subsidized by the Student Health Fee that everyone pays, VEMS does not have to charge for their services,” Gillespie said. “Students are not charged for ‘getting VEMS’d.’ By having this service, we are saving the student the cost of an ambulance ride to the hospital – currently in the neighborhood of $850 – from a local ambulance like Radnor or Narberth.”

“For a lot of students, VEMS is the best way to get the hospital,” Beaupre said. “Because we’re a non-billing group and we encourage people to call us, we would rather be called for every little thing than miss the one person who should have called us but didn’t because they didn’t think they should call an ambulance.”

No previous experience is required to be a member of VEMS.

There are, however, certain requirements to become a part of VEMS.

Members must be certified or trained in CPR/First Aid, work a minimum of 20 hours per month and attend training and membership meetings every month.

While it is not a requirement, members are also encouraged to become certified EMTs or First Responders.

There are several different positions a member of VEMS can hold. As a freshman without an EMT license, a member acts as an observer.

A CPR class is required so that an observer can ride in the ambulance and act as support staff for the EMTs and driver.

Once members receive an EMT license, they become probationary members whose job it is to hone their skills as an EMT.

They show senior staff members that they have the capability to perform necessary tasks unassisted.

Members average around 40 calls before they become cleared and are trusted with the responsibility to handle shifts on their own.

“Some of us are in VEMS because we want to do health care, so it makes sense to us to join,” Beaupre said. “But we do have communication majors, business majors, engineers, pre-med and bio majors – we have a very wide range of majors, especially with our observer program. We’re not all nurses.”

The Ride Along program allows those considering VEMS membership – or who simply have an interest in the life of a VEMS member – to sit in on a call or experience shifts in the Health Services Building.

VEMS also offers American Heart Association CPR courses throughout the year, usually once per month.

The course costs about $50 and certification is valid for two years.

An EMT-B course is also available for those seeking training as EMTs licensed in the state of Pennsylvania.

“I’m in the health care field, and I wanted to have hands on experience in a way that I could help the community and give back to Villanova in a real, tangible way,” Beaupre said. “I liked the passion that the students put into it because they really cared. The people who run the organization put in so much time and effort and so much dedication, and I thought that was so great from a student group.”

“It has been rewarding to see the group evolve from a QRS [Quick Response Service] to a fully licensed transport service, to grow from 15 members to over 50,” Gillespie said.