Af­ter USC home foot­ball games, drunk stu­dents put strain on ER

The State (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY LUCAS DAPRILE ldaprile@thes­tate.com

So many drunk Uni­ver­sity of South Carolina stu­dents are be­ing trans­ported to the emer­gency room dur­ing home foot­ball games that stretch­ers line the hall­ways of Pal­metto Health Bap­tist, emer­gency ser­vices are strained and drunken an­tics slow nurses who are try­ing to tend to the truly sick.

“They try to run away, fight peo­ple, pee in the cor­ner,” said a nurse at Pal­metto Health Bap­tist. “It’s been that way the whole time I’ve worked there.”

“We do get vi­o­lent USC stu­dents,” an­other nurse at Pal­metto Health Bap­tist said. “It just takes away from other pa­tients.”

For this story, The State in­ter­viewed four nurses and one Richland County Emer­gency Med­i­cal Tech­ni­cian un­der the con­di­tion their names not be used.

In the shadow of Wil­liams­brice Sta­dium Satur­day, hun­dreds of col­lege age women lined a wood fence with a “Fe­male En­trance Only” gate. Be­hind the fence, thou­sands rev­eled prior to the Game­cock foot­ball team’s face off against Ten­nessee.

Two women hugged each other and stum­bled around, spilling a red col­ored bev­er­age from a red cup. A bot­tle of whiskey was on the ground a few feet from them. Boots, high heels and san­dals tram­pled other solo cups, aban­doned beer cans and emp­tied six pack hold­ers.

Both Pal­metto Health Bap­tist and Richland County EMS ac­knowl­edged the num­ber of stu­dents re­quir­ing med­i­cal treat­ment on game day is a strain on re­sources.

“There has been a pat­tern where in­tox­i­cated in­di­vid­u­als are brought to the emer­gency de­part­ments at Pal­metto Health hospi­tals be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter large com­mu­nity events where al­co­hol is con­sumed,” Pal­metto Health spokes­woman Tam­mie Epps wrote in a state­ment. “Just like any large in­flux of pa­tients, this places a strain on the emer­gency depart­ment, es­pe­cially since many of these pa­tients may not re­quire med­i­cal treat­ment.”

Epps de­clined to say how many stu­dents are typ­i­cally treated at the hospi­tal dur­ing and af­ter USC home games.

Game­cock foot­ball games are just one of those events. The hospi­tal also sees a spike in drunk USC stu­dents dur­ing Hal­loween, the first week of school and some hol­i­days, sev­eral nurses told The State.

“Most of them are 18, 19 years old,” an­other nurse said. “One of them wasn’t even 18 years old.”

Nurses said they dis­tin­guish stu­dents from other pa­tients through a few ways: res­i­dent men­tors will fol­low them to the hospi­tal to drop off a cab voucher for stu­dents, some have stu­dent IDS (or fake IDS), and dur­ing game day, stu­dents of­ten wear Game­cocks ap­parel or paint their faces.

“A lot of them just say they go to USC,” an­other nurse said.

Last year, 161 USC stu­dents were trans­ported to the hospi­tal

for al­co­hol or drug-re­lated rea­sons, which is about five per week, ac­cord­ing to Dean of Stu­dents Mark Shook. This num­ber is only a par­tial count, as USC isn’t nec­es­sar­ily no­ti­fied when a stu­dent is trans­ported to the hospi­tal from an of­f­cam­pus lo­ca­tion.

Be­tween Oct. 2 and Oct 16, USC’S po­lice depart­ment cited 11 peo­ple for un­der­age drink­ing, and in every case emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices were called, ac­cord­ing to po­lice records. One of those stu­dents was taken to jail af­ter re­sist­ing EMS treat­ment, but the rest were taken to the hospi­tal, records show.

The num­ber of stu­dents who are trans­ported to the hospi­tal is al­most cer­tainly higher than this. Dur­ing a re­cent USC home game, at least 15 stu­dents were were treated at Pal­metto Bap­tist — the most com­mon hospi­tal for in­tox­i­cated USC stu­dents to be trans­ported — for ex­ces­sive drink­ing, ac­cord­ing to two sources who were in­side the emer­gency room that day.

Since 2007, stu­dents are more likely to be trans­ported to the hospi­tal for binge drink­ing in Septem­ber, Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber than any other time of the year, ac­cord­ing to USC data.

“It may have some­thing to do with the USC foot­ball men­tal­ity,” said a Richland County EMT who of­ten trans­ports drunk stu­dents from foot­ball games or the Five Points neigh­bor­hood. “If drink­ing were a na­tional sport, USC would prob­a­bly be num­ber one.”

Once drunk stu­dents are at the hospi­tal, the row­di­ness fol­lows.

One ex­am­ple: On St. Pa­trick’s day, a 23-year old USC stu­dent was flail­ing around and al­legedly “bit the tar out of” one of the nurses, be­fore she was put in re­straints, ar­rested and taken to jail, ac­cord­ing to a sum­mary po­lice re­port and wit­nesses who spoke to The State. She was charged with third­de­gree as­sault and bat­tery and re­leased on a $1,087 bond. The case is on­go­ing.

“Spit­ting, kick­ing, the whole nine yards is pretty com­mon,” when treat­ing drunk USC stu­dents, the EMT said.

One nurse said about half of the drunk stu­dents who come into the hospi­tal cause prob­lems.

But the 23-year-old stu­dent, like many other in­tox­i­cated stu­dents who are taken to the hospi­tal, wasn’t drunk enough to re­quire med­i­cal at­ten­tion, one of the nurses who wit­nessed the al­leged as­sault said.

“If some­one is able to talk and an­swer ques­tions, they prob­a­bly don’t need to go to the hospi­tal,” a nurse said.

The EMT agreed, say­ing, “There’s been more than one oc­ca­sion where we’ve taken USC stu­dents to the hospi­tal...but they didn’t need to be there.”

Richland County EMS ac­knowl­edged the high vol­ume of drunk pa­tients, es­pe­cially dur­ing game day, is a strain.

“While a USC home game re­quires ad­di­tional re­sources to han­dle the num­ber of peo­ple that flood into the area in and around the sta­dium dur­ing the day of the game, it does not af­fect the qual­ity of care a pa­tient re­ceives when be­ing treated by an EMS unit,” Richland County spokes­woman Bev­erly Har­ris wrote in a state­ment. “But cer­tainly, a game will re­quire ad­di­tional re­sources. Es­sen­tially, the pop­u­la­tion in the area around the sta­dium be­comes equiv­a­lent to the size of a city for up to six or eight hours.”

Once EMTS have re­sponded to a call, even if it’s for some­thing rel­a­tively mi­nor like a drunk stu­dent, they can’t leave that scene to go treat a more se­ri­ous in­jury, the EMT said.

Nurses and the EMT voiced frus­tra­tion over an al­leged po­lice prac­tice they say fur­ther over­loads emer­gency rooms. Of­fi­cers from USC’S po­lice depart­ment and the Columbia Po­lice Depart­ment catch un­der­age stu­dents drink­ing and give them the op­tion to ei­ther go to the hospi­tal or to jail, ac­cord­ing to four nurses and an EMT.

Stens­land said it is not USC po­lice pol­icy to do that and Columbia po­lice spokes­woman Jen­nifer Tim­mons said po­lice do not do that.

“The re­sult de­pends on the to­tal­ity of each in­di­vid­ual’s cir­cum­stance and not based on an op­tion given to the per­son,” Tim­mons said in an email.

The EMT, how­ever, said he has heard po­lice say it.

“They say it in front of us all the time,” the EMT said. “It saves them time, saves them on pa­per­work, if we take them to the hospi­tal.”

Re­gard­less of how drunk stu­dents ar­rive, the hospi­tal can’t ig­nore them. Fed­eral law re­quires emer­gency rooms to treat any­one who comes to an emer­gency room.

For stu­dents who do need to be in the emer­gency room, it’s com­mon for them to come in with a blood-al­co­hol level of .20 or .30, a nurse said. In South Carolina, driv­ers with a blood-al­co­hol level of .08 are con­sid­ered drunk.

“We get kids we have to in­tu­bate — we have to breathe for them be­cause they drank so much or got into some drugs,” a nurse said.

While records show some un­der­age stu­dents trans­ported to the hospi­tal for ex­ces­sive drink­ing or drug use re­sulted in a ci­ta­tion, oth­ers did not. How­ever, that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook. When stu­dents are caught drink­ing un­der­age or the uni­ver­sity knows they were taken to the hospi­tal for ex­ces­sive drink­ing, they are re­ferred to the Of­fice of Stu­dent Con­duct and Aca­demic In­tegrity.

“48 hours af­ter be­ing trans­ported to the hospi­tal, you’re in the con­duct of­fice,” said Anna Ed­wards, USC’S as­so­ciate vice pres­i­dent for stu­dent life.

Stu­dents re­ferred to the con­duct of­fice for un­der­age drink­ing can be given a $250 fine, their par­ents may be called, and they may be re­quired to take an al­co­hol ed­u­ca­tion class. But pun­ish­ment is not the main goal. Rather, the uni­ver­sity screens stu­dents on whether they’re at risk for con­tin­ued binge drink­ing and then sets them up with “mo­ti­va­tional in­ter­views” with coun­selors who help them set goals for be­hav­ioral change.

“We find for a lot of stu­dents who were trans­ported, this was the first time they drank,” said Shook, the dean of stu­dents. “The uni­ver­sity ap­proaches these as ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

The pro­gram has seen a suc­cess, ac­cord­ing to statis­tics pro­vided by Shook.

70 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants said they used less mar­i­juana dur­ing the pre­vi­ous month;

46 per­cent said they had re­duced the num­ber of times they con­sumed eight or more drinks on a sin­gle oc­ca­sion;

50 per­cent said they had ab­stained from al­co­hol or mar­i­juana in the last 30 days;

35 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants said they had re­duced the num­ber times they took pre­scrip­tion drugs while drink­ing.

USC will also con­tinue its ef­forts to con­test liquor li­censes for some Five Points bars it sees as prob­lem­atic. A re­cent USC study found hos­pi­tal­ized USC stu­dents were more likely to have had their last drink at Five Points than any­where else.

“The uni­ver­sity can­not do the work we do... in a vac­uum. Our work will con­tinue in the en­ter­tain­ment dis­tricts,” Ed­wards said. “There is just a dif­fer­ent mes­sage that’s shared there.”

The State file photo

Game­cock foot­ball games are just one of the events when Pal­metto Health Bap­tist sees a spike in drunk USC stu­dents. The hospi­tal sees a sim­i­lar in­crease dur­ing Hal­loween, the first week of school and some hol­i­days, sev­eral nurses told The State.

DAVID TRAVIS BLAND tb­land@thes­tate.com

A po­lice car ex­its a party spot dur­ing the Game­cock and Ten­nessee foot­ball game Sun­day.

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