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Medical amnesty may up emergency calls

BY EMILY BUSSE | APRIL 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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Johnson County ambulance officials say they’re prepared for a potential increase in 911 calls after the University of Iowa implements a Good Samaritan Policy later this year.

Steve Spenler, the director of Johnson County Ambulance Service, said he would see more calls as a good sign that students are calling for help more often.

“If that makes kids just a little bit more willing to call, I’d be in favor of that — whether or not that increases our call volume,” he said. “We’re certainly prepared for that.”

Other universities with similar medical-amnesty policies, such as Cornell University of Ithaca, N.Y., saw a spike in emergency calls immediately after implementing them.

With a working draft completed, the “Responsible Action Protocol” will most likely be in place by the start of the fall 2010 semester, said Dean of Students David Grady.

The new protocol would come into play if students violate the Code of Student Life and would protect both the person who calls for help and the one in need of assistance from receiving a university sanction, Grady said.

“We want to try to do things like this that will reduce at least one barrier that might stand in front of them finding help for their friends,” he said.



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Spenler’s confidence comes in part from receiving permission to staff a fourth ambulance.

At present, the service runs three ambulances — two in Iowa City and one in Coralville — 24 hours a day, all week.

Beginning July 1, it will run the fourth ambulance for 40 hours a week during peak volume times: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

If the new policy results in an increase, they would adjust those times to fit the new peak times, Spenler said.

“We have the resources,” he said. “We could deal with that.”

Though the policy allows students to call for emergency assistance, it may not exempt them from letters home, meetings with administrators, or alcohol-education courses, Grady said.

If the student is a repeat offender, exhibits flagrant behavior, or supplied the alcohol in the first place, Grady or other staff members would determine whether to implement the policy on a case-by-case basis.

Other illegal activity taking place at the scene, such as assault or destruction of property, will not fall under exemption. And the policy only covers university discipline — law enforcement will not necessarily ignore underage drinking.

Marni Steadham, the head of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said a Good Samaritan policy has been the group’s main platform for years.

The University of Northern Iowa has had a Good Samaritan Provision, and both Grady and Tom Rocklin, the UI interim vice president for Student Services, said they weren’t sure why the UI hasn’t implemented it in the past.

For Steadham, the wait has been too long.

“They seemed to think that people would, quote, ‘Do the right thing,’ ” she said. “Which is not really that easy to do when you’re faced with the possibility of getting someone arrested or getting yourself arrested.”

Now that the provision will be in place in a matter of months, Steadham said the “crucial” next step is to make sure students fully understand it. She said her group will most likely send out e-mails and organize an event to discuss the policy.

President Sally Mason said during an interview with The Daily Iowan this change falls into the university’s preparation for the 21-ordinance going into effect June 1.

“We’ve got to look at all these things to make sure what we’re doing is not somehow going to have unintended consequences that we don’t want,” she said. “We don’t want to make this worse.”


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