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RAs told not to touch students in medical emergencies

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Instructions not to touch students in a medical emergency have some Resident Assistants worried they could be fired for helping a student in need of immediate emergency care.

Four RAs, three current and one former, said that either their residence hall directors or quad graduate assistants told them if they saw a student bleeding, choking, or experiencing any kind of emergency, they should call their supervisor or UPD and not try to physically help the student — a policy that Residential Life leadership say is not officially in place.

Carol Perrin, director of Residential Life, said that the organization’s official policy is that RAs should call their residence hall director and UPD in the case of a life-threatening emergency, adding that RAs are not prohibited from touching students in emergencies.

“If there’s other information being communicated I’m not aware of that. I’m not privy to what they said or didn’t say. I just know what our policy is,” said Perrin. “That’s concerning to me any time someone is not understanding the policy or not sharing the correct information.”

Brandon Holdridge, current RA on State Quad and recently elected senate chair of the Student Association, said that in the two medical emergencies he responded to, he made sure not to touch the victim because of his supervisor’s rule.

“First it’s a safety issue for you, and secondly I believe a liability issue,” said Holdridge, referring to his RA training.

Brescia Lopez, an RA on Dutch Quad from 2014 to 2015, said that her Resident Director gave her similar instructions during her summer training.

“They just told us just to call UPD and call our supervisor immediately. It was never anything about being a good Samaritan like that,” said Lopez, referring to the common name of the laws shielding bystanders for being sued for providing care.

New York Public Health Law grants protection from liability to anyone who provides emergency treatment, as long as the person acts voluntarily and their actions are not grossly negligent.

Resident hall directors are key decision makers between Residential Life leadership and RAs. Albany Law School health law professor Evelyn Tenenbaum said that middle management adding extra restrictions to policies was something she dealt with often when she worked for the New York State attorney general.

“I believe that what happens is that when people interpret a policy like that, it’s just like, ‘Why don’t we err on the side of being extra cautious because that way we know we won’t be liable,’” said Tenenbaum. “But I don’t know that they’re necessarily thinking of some kid that’s dying.”

One RA, speaking on condition of anonymity out of respect for Residential Life’s policy prohibiting RAs from speaking to the press, said that his supervisor even instructed RAs who knew CPR to not use it in an emergency. Other RA sources on different quads could not remember whether their supervisor gave any exceptions for RAs who had training.

Currently, RAs are not required to be trained in basic First Aid or CPR.

Tibisay Hernandez, who worked as a Residence Hall Director last year, told the ASP that she only taught RAs not to touch students if they weren’t sure what was wrong with them, but that she didn’t discourage RAs from helping if they were confident.

“I was CPR trained so I knew to place someone flat on their back if they were unconscious and go through CPR procedures,” she said. “RA’s are not trained in any of that so they could cause more damage than good in that situation.”

RAs could potentially save lives by performing basic first aid like tying tourniquets or CPR before medical assistance arrives, according to Jeremy Semeiks, a resident at the Albany Medical emergency room.

“They potentially could be very helpful if they know what they’re doing,” said Semeiks.

“At some point an RA can only be expected to do so much,” said Perrin. “Again we have Five Quad, we have UPD who are trained to respond.”

Students expressed concern that their RAs are under the impression that they cannot physically help in emergencies.

“I feel like in some situations it would make sense to help them,” said freshman homeland security major Grace Santoski. “Because they are your RA, aren’t they supposed to help you?”

Mohammed Al-Alawi, an international student from Oman, said he also would be worried if RAs were not allowed to help him if he was bleeding or in distress.

Despite the unofficial policy, several RAs said they would defy supervisors’ orders if it meant helping a student in distress.

“Would it cost us our job?” said one RA speaking on condition of anonymity. “Possibly, but we also know what the morally right thing to do is.”

Perrin said she has asked Associate Director of Residential Life Leandra Harris to address the issue by reiterating Residential Life’s policies during the annual RA training program in August.

Residential Life plans to train staff — including RAs — this summer on how to use automatic external defibrillators or AEDs, which jump-start victim’s hearts that are stopped.


Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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