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The two devised a system in which Young would serve as the group's medical advisor, essentially using his medical license as an umbrella under which student EMTs could work, thus freeing the university of any responsibility. "Any EMT agency has to operate under a medical advisor who is registered with the state," Young explains. "I have a malpractice policy that covers the group. We had to manage those kinds of tasks and concerns before the administration and the school would allow us to function.
"I had no trepidation about the idea whatsoever," adds Young, who has a law degree and taught medical-liability issues as a resident at Denver Health. "We're covered by EMS acts and other medical-practice acts that say that as long as you meet the standard of care, whatever it is, you're not liable for malpractice. Yes, it is a risk, but in the two years that I have done this, I have not been disappointed. There is no question that the benefits outweigh the risks."
They consulted numerous experts in the EMS community and developed a rigorous protocol for SEMS members. The volunteers would offer basic medical assistance and recognize warning signs, but never overstep their boundaries and wade into extensive care. They would also keep detailed charts of every patient interaction, which Young would review, monitoring the young medics and offering feedback on how they could improve their service. Based on their plan, CU administrators made SEMS an official student group in November 2004.
"The first event we went to, some bad things happened," Rossi remembers. "There was a student there who had over-drank severely, and we were able to help get him medical attention. Normally, that person would never have gone to a hospital, and who knows what would have happened then? But we recognized the situation and were able to get him help. I knew then we were on to something."
But not everyone recognized it.
"There was some real apprehension within the Greek community," Rossi explains. "Basically, there were people who were worried that if we went to their party, we would get them in trouble. But that's never been our mission. We have no intention of doing that."
"We don't wander around at frat parties taking beers out of hands," Young adds. "We're not parental. We're there to save lives and treat injuries. We don't walk around acting like the alcohol police. We're not narcs; we're not there to criticize. We're just there to be part of the party so that people don't die."
"I think SEMS is an absolutely fabulous program," says John Henderson, director of Greek life at CU. "With any newer program, people are going to have more questions about it, so it has taken the past year or two for the Panhellenic Society to come around. I think it just took people figuring out what, exactly, it is that the group does -- that they're there just to be an extra set of eyes and ears."
And sometimes feet.
"The first party I ever went to as a SEMS member was a Kappa Kappa Gamma formal," Speidel remembers. "They had rented out the entire top floor of some club. We were set up right by the dance floor, drinking our comped cokes, while the other guys at the party were still imbibing their liquid confidence. The girls wanted to dance, so we stepped up to the plate and started dancing with them. Our medical services weren't needed, but our social services were."
All of CU's sororities now invite SEMS members to their parties -- though not necessarily to dance. So do about a third of the fraternities, as well as numerous other student groups, which reach SEMS through its website, www.semsf.org. The organization has grown to about fifty members. And in May 2005, SEMS became an official foundation, complete with a seven-member board of directors and a goal of spreading the concept to other schools. "Binge drinking is a problem on most campuses across the United States," the website reads. "To save one life is not a sufficient reward. Many lives could be saved, and the culture of binge drinking could be changed with the SEMS model."
The University of Maryland has signed on, and both the University of Southern California and CSU have expressed interest. Rossi and Speidel went to those schools to discuss the merits of SEMS, but found themselves facing the same concern over liability initially raised by CU administrators.
"Whenever anyone hears that we want to do medical services and that we're students, there is a large question about liability," Rossi says. "But we've done an extensive analysis of our offerings, and tons of quality improvement and assessment to make sure we are doing this in the most professional manner and that all of our students are trained in the most professional way. Our medical director wouldn't be doing what he's doing if he didn't believe in it. He is able to communicate with other physicians the importance of our program. The real challenge is convincing administrations to waive their liability concerns."
Recognizing that some schools may never do that, SEMS has developed other services, too. It's set up a liaison program that trains CU students -- mostly fraternity members -- how to recognize problems, on the theory that if SEMS isn't asked to private events, at least students it has trained can help their friends. Members have also studied the various alcohol-awareness efforts and determined that what most schools are offering could definitely be improved. "What we would like to do is, if we go to a university and they are hesitant to set up a SEMS program, then we still have the resources to work with them to make their current programs better," Rossi explains.