The Respite Center at Springfield College is as old as some of the school’s current students. Established in 1994, the Center served as a place for overly intoxicated students to be tended to by campus emergency medical services (EMS) staff. There, the EMS staff determined whether students could spend the rest of their evening in Respite or be transported to a local hospital.
The luxury of this center, which was one of three remaining in the Commonwealth by the conclusion of last year, is now gone.
How The Decision Was Made
In January of this year, attorney Chris Neronha was hired by Springfield College and promptly began to assess campus policy. One of the sections he highlighted was the Respite Center.
“The state of Massachusetts has really stringent rules and regulations around operating detox facilities,” said Springfield College Chief of Police Michael Sullivan.
Although the Respite Center was in theory not a “detox center” according to Sullivan, it still needed a licensed doctor on call as well as a nursing staff in order to continue operation without any question of legality. It had neither of the two. As a result, the school elected to err on the side of caution and shut the center down so as not to run the risk of legal trouble.
Of the three centers similar to Springfield’s that were in operation only one remains.
“Members of EMS at the school don’t really have the entire skillset needed to deal with drunk students,” said Ian Wyman, the head of EMS on campus.
Wyman cited that with the level in which campus EMT’s are allowed to act, they are not legally permitted to utilize suctioning in the event that a student started aspirating. The equipment to suction was available to campus EMT’s but usage of them was above their training level and if they needed to step in and perform such an act they would likely lose their license permanently.
With the Respite Center now closed, a few protocol measures have been altered to accommodate this change.
Campus EMS, as well as Public Safety, will still report to any incident of over intoxication. From there an officer will conduct a field sobriety test to assess the student’s current state to determine if the student is safe to return to their room for the night or if a trip to the hospital is necessary.
The school has changed ambulance companies and will now be utilizing the services of Alert Ambulance, a private group. The school formerly used AMR; however, with AMR also having a contract with the city of Springfield, intoxication cases were not always the highest of priorities.
“We liked the sense of family (Alert) brought and we felt that they would treat our students appropriately and respectfully,” Sullivan said.
The school is also in partnership with Mercy Hospital in Springfield and has met with a variety of the staff at the hospital to make sure that a student is taken care of appropriately.
Upon release, Mercy has also arranged to make sure the student gets a cab called for them and that Public Safety is notified that the student is returning to campus.
What Happens During a Transport
The results of a transport to the hospital are largely unchanged. According to Sullivan and Dean of Students Terry Vecchio, a transport to the hospital will cost about $750-1000 depending on the student’s insurance company and deductible. Public Safety will be in contact with the parents throughout the process.
“We contact the parents just to let them know that [their child] has been transported,” Vecchio said. “It’s really important to keep the parents in the loop.”
Following a return to campus, in the coming days, the student will sit down with Vecchio and have a conversation on how to make better, more responsible decisions with alcohol.
With the elimination of Respite, hospital transports due to alcohol are expected to increase by about 20 percent according to Sullivan and Vecchio.
EMS is also looking to relocate to a more central part of campus to ensure timely responses. They currently are housed in public safety (where respite was also located)..
The school is also working on continuing to improve upon bystander intervention, a program that has reached more than 600 students on campus about taking action if someone is to witness something amiss going on.
“We are thinking people are going to be a little more proactive about getting ahead of it and saying, ‘Maybe we need to shut them off, they have had [too much to drink],’” Sullivan said.
Overall, the school expects the removal of the Respite Center to be beneficial in the long run. Although it removes that middle ground between hospital and returning to the room for the night, the school is well prepared and has thought through handling the transition.