A night in the ER
Student alcohol-related visits to emergency room increase, serious incidents decrease
Fluorescent lights shine harshly over the tiled floors and empty couches of the waiting area of the Medical Center’s Emergency Room. A few patients are scattered throughout, sitting quietly and looking disenchantedly at the television. Nurses shuffle by, and the registration desk processes the occasional walk-in.
Contrary to what one might expect of the ER on the Grounds of the nation’s “number one party school,” the University’s emergency department can be quite tame on a Saturday night. The majority of the cases that do come in are from Charlottesville’s elderly community, said Dr. Chris Holstege, director of Student Health and Faculty Senate chair
But no two nights are the same, he said, emphasizing that each night can bring a variety of cases, from “medical emergencies like strokes to traumatic injuries such as car accidents.”
Only a small percentage of the emergency department visitors are students with alcohol related problems, because according to Holstege, most students drink moderately and do not regularly need emergency services.
A study from the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, however, shows the number of annual emergency room visits have doubled since the 2000-01 school year.
The number of “serious” alcohol-related visits, on the other hand, have decreased, according to Susan Bruce, director of the Gordie Center. This development may indicate students and their friends are seeking help earlier or are more aware that emergency department services are generally kept confidential from parents, administrators and police, she said.
Second-year College student Anna Turrietta said friends still may be concerned about bringing their friends to the hospital. She also said that it can be difficult to determine when someone’s level of drunkenness is dangerous — which could mean somebody who needs care doesn’t get it.
Holstege said, however, that the University has worked hard to combat this problem. “U.Va. has done a lot over the years to educate students on this, and we want students to come to the emergency department if friends or others feel it is needed,” he said.
Maeve Geismar, also a second year student in the College, said she also thought students might avoid the emergency department because they are afraid of medical bills and having to explain them to their parents.
Both Geismar and Turrietta said considering how many students there are at the University, a small number seem to go the hospital each weekend for alcohol-related incidents.