CWRU Emergency Medical Service (EMS)—Case Western Reserve University’s student-run volunteer emergency medical service organization—has been awarded the 2021 Collegiate EMS Organization of Year Award by the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation (NCEMSF). 

Presented at the virtual NCEMSF annual conference on Feb. 27, the award honors a student EMS organization that demonstrates outstanding service to its campus. More specifically, the award is typically presented to an organization showing marked improvements in service or growth over the last year. Through campus closures, COVID-19 protocols, staffing challenges and virtual meetings, CWRU EMS has managed to achieve both.

Third-year student and CWRU EMS Chief Joseph Swetz described winning the award as “absolutely exciting,” and said it has given members a chance to think about all they’ve accomplished over the last year.

“Since campus initially closed last spring, our executive board has spent most of our time planning how to safely return to campus and how to continue to operate safely,” said Swetz. “I feel like we haven’t really taken a moment to reflect on our successes, so it’s really exciting to get this recognition.”

Prior to the pandemic, CWRU EMS’s 40 active clinical members—who are all certified Ohio EMTs— provided free 24/7 treatment and transport to campus and the surrounding community, dispatched through the university’s emergency number. Over the past year, their membership has grown to include 13 new members who are currently in the process of earning their Ohio EMT certification. In addition to their emergency services, CWRU EMS also provides virtual and hybrid CPR training to campus and the surrounding community, as well as Stop the Bleed courses—an initiative to train the public on how to provide life-saving care in the event of serious bleeding.

“Our community outreach is definitely one of the things that we’ve been really proud of this last year,” said Swetz. “It’s been a challenge to coordinate everything within the COVID-19 protocols, but we’ve had a lot of help and guidance from our advisors in University Health and Counseling Services and Public Safety, and we’re really proud of how we’ve been able to continue to safely serve our community.”

Although CWRU EMS had to cut back on their shift hours since returning to campus to avoid strain on their members and to follow occupancy requirements, their service to the CWRU community has gone almost completely uninterrupted. Even members who were unable to return to campus have stayed involved in the organization, attending weekly virtual Squad Education and Training meetings to keep up with their clinical skills while they’re away. Swetz credits the hard work of CWRU EMS members and help from university staff for keeping their operations running safely and smoothly.

Photo showing members of CWRU EMS posing for a photo at a vaccination clinic

“We took a little bit of a hit, but we’re thrilled that we were able to continue normal operations,” said Swetz. “As a student organization, we’re held to all the same rules any other student organization is held to, so we’ve had to come up with a lot of protocols and work closely with Sara Lee and Frank Demes, who really helped us figure out how it’s going to work, the PPE we need to use and how to keep both our providers and patients safe.”

Most recently, CWRU EMS members have been assisting with the COVID-19 vaccination efforts on campus and throughout Cuyahoga County, serving as scribes and post-vaccination monitors. They also provide stand-by care during the Office of Resiliency’s on-campus vaccination clinics, and transportation for CWRU EMS members to volunteer at other vaccination sites around the county.

Over the past year, CWRU EMS has also been able to purchase battery-powered cots to lift patients, taking the strain and safety concerns of lifting off of the providers. They began talks with the surrounding community to start developing a mutual aid agreement to allow their members to cover calls that are not on campus, as well as identifying opportunities for members to assist other agencies. 

Reflecting on what their organization has overcome and accomplished over the last year, Swetz feels thankful for the dedication of CWRU EMS members.

“I think the challenges we’ve faced as a result of COVID-19 have definitely made things a little more interesting, but it’s also made it feel like what we’re doing is so much more worth it,“ said Swetz. “Our members have continued to stay engaged, and continued to take on all these hours every week and every month—it’s been really impressive. I feel so lucky to have them, and I think our entire campus does as well.”