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WEMS expands coverage to include weekdays from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., starting Oct. 29

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Cole Fetherston

Contributing Writer

Starting Oct. 29, Willamette Emergency Medical Services (WEMS) will be expanding their hours of operation to include weekdays from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.. This is in addition to its existing coverage from 5 p.m. on Fridays to 5 p.m. on Sundays. This will mean that the WEMS schedule will align with when Bishop Wellness Center is closed. The WEMS new on duty schedule can be viewed [here].

WEMS is a volunteer, student-run, emergency medical service that services Willamette University’s Salem campus. When students call Campus Safety with a medical emergency, WEMS sends its licensed responders to provide medical care. According to WEMS President Nathan Brown (‘22), WEMS is a no-cost service and has faster response times than the ambulance company in Salem. WEMS also provides training and standby medical services.

WEMS leadership say that the change is important and will provide value to the Willamette community. “We know that there’s a lot of medical emergencies that happen outside of just the weekend,” said Brown. Kelli O’Brien (Atkinson ‘23), a WEMS supervisor and Executive Team member, said that, while many students have traditionally believed that the only reason to call WEMS is alcohol poisoning, they respond to a larger variety of emergencies; “I think what we’re seeing is that there’s a lot more trauma cases going on. There’s a lot more psychological emergency cases. There’s more medical things happening to people.” O’Brien emphasized that these emergencies are not limited to the weekends and that WEMS needed to adjust its schedule to be able to respond to these needs.

Shift supervisor Jackson Espeut ‘23 and Ally Roden ‘22 with their gear before leaving for their on-call shift.

Brown and O’Brien also say that the organization will have the capacity to maintain this new expanded schedule. “Our providers are gonna have to really work as a team to make sure that we’re not overworking any two individuals,” said O’Brien. “So it’ll be a bit of a culture shift, but not anything unmanageable.” O’Brien said that WEMS’ supervisors may be stretched thin but that all of them have agreed to this change. Brown said that WEMS will need to do more recruiting in response to this change.

WEMS is also facing financial issues related to supplies and training. WEMS relies on ASWU for funding, which is currently facing [financial strain]. At the ASWU Senate meeting on Oct. 7, ASWU denied a $17,200 funding request from WEMS for an EMR class for 32 students (at the same meeting, ASWU also funded $2,387.75 of other requests from WEMS). Brown said that WEMS is trying to be creative with how it utilizes available funding to maintain enrollment and staffing. Budget constrictions are also difficult for WEMS because it has no control over the prices of the supplies it needs. “When the pandemic made PPE incredibly expensive, there was nothing we could do, but say, I’m sorry, we need thousands of dollars to be able to maintain being on call,” said O’Brien. Another broader issue is that ASWU’s funding round structure creates logistical challenges for WEMS. “If I use epinephrine this weekend and the funding round isn’t for another month, we can’t go a month without epinephrine,” said O’Brien.

According to Brown, WEMS provides many opportunities for students to get experience in the medical field. While WEMS does not pay its members, it covers as much of the cost as possible of the required training to become certified. According to Brown, serving as a WEMS medic provides good patient care experience that can also be used for applications to graduate schools and medical programs. Brown also said that WEMS is expanding membership to unlicensed students; these new auxiliary members would be able to provide assistance with general operations but would not respond to calls.

WEMS leadership urges students to take use of their services if they are ever in need. “I personally just want the student body to know that they’re safe calling us,” said Brown. Brown said that WEMS responders are not there to judge patients but to ensure their safety, and also added that WEMS is prohibited by federal law from disclosing patient information. O’Brien said that students should never feel that they should not call WEMS because they are unsure if their problem is an emergency, including for medical, psychological and trauma issues. “If you call us for something that’s not a big deal, it makes us happy to know that you’re safe.”

Students can reach WEMS from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays by calling Campus Safety at (503) 370-6911.

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