After a failure to notify the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service of previous campus health emergencies, university officials informed the EMT service of the test results confirming a case of bacterial meningitis an hour before emailing the rest of the student body last Thursday.
Last March, however, when then-sophomore Daniel Milzman produced ricin in his dorm room in McCarthy Hall, the university did not inform GERMS prior to informing the rest of the student body.
“We knew about the meningitis as it was happening. There were GERMS members that responded to the meningitis call, knew about the incident earlier than university officials,” GERMS Director of Public Relations Manavi Bhagwat (NHS ’16) said. “We were finding out the information as the university did because for a long time, tests were still coming out as they were trying to test if it was bacterial or not. We found out that it was bacterial about an hour before other students.”
The GERMS crew on duty became aware of the case of possible meningitis before the rest of the university when they received an emergency call last week. Since the group operates [under] the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the members on call were prohibited from informing students or other GERMS members to protect patient confidentiality.
“The university and GERMS communicate on a very regular basis,” GERMS Captain Brian Monahan (COL ’15) said. “As an organization that provides a campus service, we feel that it is important to have regular and productive communication with various university departments who play an important role in managing the day to day operations at Georgetown.”
Despite this regular communication, GERMS officials were not informed about the presence of ricin on campus last March until the university sent out a campus-wide email. Monahan and Bhagwat said they are confident that the university would have informed GERMS had they thought the ricin posed a risk to the health of the student body.
“GERMS leadership at the time of the ricin incident was provided information on a need-to-know basis and at no point was patient or GERMS provider safety in jeopardy,” Monahan said. “Given the circumstances surrounding the incident, GERMS was pleased with how the incident was handled by all involved.”
The lack of communication between the university and GERMS, which is often the first method of care for students, in all medical emergencies creates concerns for some students.
Jason Gusdorf (SFS ’16) said he feels that a communication lapse could create a potential risk for students.
“It concerns me that GERMS doesn’t always have access to certain important general medical information during campus-wide emergencies,” Gusdorf said. “It’s the organization in charge of immediate student medical services and I would like them to be as prepared to help students as possible.”
Alexa DiAngeles (COL ’16) said that she thinks that GERMS should be alerted about serious health issues on campus because they work directly with a large number of students.
“I think they should be allowed to know [about health risks] because if they’re getting calls, they’re in direct contact with students, they’re going to be the ones that can tell if this is spreading,” DiAngeles said. “These are very difficult situations to handle and very unexpected situations.”
Alisha Dua (COL ’16) said that she thinks that it is important for GERMS to know about serious health risks for the sake of its own members.
“I would think they should be the first people to know … for their own sake,” Dua said. “Their chances are way higher that they’d be exposed.”
Although GERMS is not always given a priority notification, the group regularly works closely with the Georgetown Hospital Emergency Department.
In the past week, GERMS has worked with several on-campus departments as well as physicians at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to create a protocol for treating students with symptoms similar to those of meningitis.
Monahan facilitated additional discussions with the hospital as well as with internal university departments such as Student Health and the Department of Emergency Management to ensure GERMS was prepared to respond to possible outbreaks.
“Georgetown EMS maintains patient and crew safety as our utmost priority,” Monahan said. “The nature of emergency medical services is that they are unexpected and unpredictable. There have been countless times where GERMS has had to modify its normal operations.”
James Welsh, Assistant Vice President for Student Health Services at Georgetown, commended GERMS’s exceptional abilities that have allowed it to implement emergency procedures following this recent campus emergency.
“GERMS is an extremely important organization to our university,” Welsh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “All of us (students, faculty, staff, visitors) rely on their exceptional training, organization, skill and response to ensure the health and safety of our community. We are very lucky to have them.”