Since the end of physical classes on March 13, campus services have exponentially decreased, and student workers have mostly left campus. The Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo), however, is still in service, maintaining round-the-clock care for students on campus even after most have gone home.
The decision to keep BEMCo on campus was made primarily by students. According to the BEMCo Director Michele Etzbach ’20, the emergency service’s faculty advisors, including Director of Public Safety Edward Callahan and Dr. Debra Poaster, among others, gave BEMCo leaders and members the choice to remain in service if they had enough staff and resources to serve the community safely. “I assumed we would be told one way or another, ‘this is the date you’re going to go out of service’ or ‘we would like you to continue,’” Etzbach said, so she was surprised when the decision was mostly left up to the BEMCo E-Board.
To determine whether BEMCo would have enough staff to maintain the same level of care they always give to Brandeis, the E-Board polled members to determine how many would or could volunteer to stay. “It has to be completely voluntary,” Etzbach said, relaying the words of Dr. Poaster, the doctor in charge of overseeing BEMCo’s medical decisions. “All of [our] members have to know what is involved in staying in service and taking shifts.” After talking for days with the whole BEMCo staff about their options, many members came forward, volunteering to stay and serve Brandeis students, which allowed the E-Board to commit to continuing care. On March 16, Etzbach officially announced to administrators that BEMCo would be remaining in service past the student move out date on March 18.
Since this decision was made, BEMCo leaders needed to consistently reevaluate the emergency service’s place on campus, which depends on the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and volunteers to fulfill the extensive time commitment. Etzbach said that these reevaluations also include members ensuring that everyone remains physically and mentally healthy. As of now, there are five BEMCo crew chiefs on campus—crew chiefs are in charge of crew members on call—and around seven members under Brandeis housing, though some off-campus workers also take shifts. Two BEMCo members, one of whom must be a crew chief, are on every shift in comparison to the four members and two crew chiefs on shift when the campus is full. Although BEMCo is only receiving around two calls a week since classes ceased, according to Etzbach one of their main goals, apart from medical support for all students left on campus, is being a source of comfort for those who remain on campus. “It’s nice for the campus to know that we’re still there,” Etzbach said.
As for the availability of PPE, according to Director of Operations Ben Connally ’21, BEMCo is not in danger of running out in the near future. Connally had already ordered supplies before this semester began and was able to order more as COVID-19 concerns increased across the world. “BEMCo has always had good equipment,” Connally said, “so we’re in a very good spot for PPE right now.” Etzbach said that members are responding to every call in full protective gear including N95 masks, gloves and goggles, and that they are “feeling good” about their ability to continue to maintain these protocols for now.
BEMCo’s ability to stay in service relies heavily on the faculty advisors that help them exist. Etzbach said that Callahan functions as their connection to public safety and to the administration, “communicating with us the most about what the administration wanted right now in terms of us being in service.” Callahan told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview that he “was a major proponent in having BEMCo stay,” since it is a vital resource to have on campus for students and community members. He added that public safety maintains the same number of Brandeis Police officers who are prepared to assist BEMCo members on any call that necessitates police presence, “providing optimum support” to students.
One thing that remains uncertain, as it does for all of us amid the COVID-19 crisis, is the future. Like many organizations on campus, BEMCo did not have time to train future leaders before physical classes ended. For an emergency medical service, this training period, starting May 1 and leading up to commencement, is important to allow members to settle into their new roles and execute them safely.
“Usually the idea is that between May 1 and the end of the school year… you can get a few weeks of basic experience doing your job but you’re not going to get any of that right now because nothing is going to happen after May 1, so there’s honestly going to be a big learning curve come fall,” Connally said. Current BEMCo leaders set up voting on Google forms to establish a list of future leaders, and they will do their best to train remotely until the campus reopens.
“I think they’re going to do just fine jumping into things,” Etzbach said, “and if not, they can call us.”
BEMCo members are supporting the student body by keeping themselves available as a free medical resource to anyone on campus—so to keep your healthcare workers (including BEMCo members) a little bit safer, make sure to stay home or in your dorm and respect social distancing. If you are concerned about the health of yourself or a friend, you can call BEMCo at 781-736-3333.
Editor’s note: BEMCo is officially out of service as of May 3, 2020. Please contact Brandeis Police if you have emergencies on campus.