DHEC: USC's first responder program not licensed to operate

Published: May. 14, 2015 at 7:56 PM EDT|Updated: May. 15, 2015 at 2:56 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The University of South Carolina first responder program is shut down after not being in compliance with state regulations.

The program was closed May 9, according to University officials, after the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control notified the Student Health Services program director that it was not licensed to have the program in place.

DHEC representatives met with the University's SHS staff almost a year ago to discuss services and ensure they were following state regulations for emergency medical services, according to information released by DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley. It was after that meeting DHEC was assured that SHS was only providing "simple first aid care and did not provide medical care in transporting students," Beasley explained.

SHS was given written notice that it should not "advertise or profess" to provide emergency medical response or ambulance services unless the program has the proper state license and permit from DHEC. In a letter from DHEC to SHS Executive Director Dr. Deborah Beck on June 26, 2014, it stated the program didn't need a license as an ambulance service or an emergency medical responder agency since SHS is not acting as an emergency medical responder agency. That same letter also pointed out that SHS "provides non-medical shuttle transports to students who request rides to the hospital or other health care providers." It also does not "provide medical care in transporting these students" and is "not acting as an ambulance service."

The DHEC letter, signed by EMS&T Division Director Robert Wronski, even told SHS that it looked forward to working with the program director concerning any future licensing, permitting or certification needs it may have.

However, DHEC later found evidence that SHS was advertising that it provided emergency medical response to students.

In an April 24 letter from DHEC to Beck, it found the SHS program stated on its website, "SHS Emergency Medical Technicians are on call 24/7 to respond to the scene of all campus 911 calls." It stated a 911 call would go to USC Police, Richland County EMS and to the SHS emergency medical technician on call.

Also, DHEC's investigation found that SHS had a list of first responders on its website who were identified as being emergency medical technicians. Last, the patient care form used by SHS showed "procedures" that are to be performed by emergency medical technicians that "far exceed simple first aid care."

SHS replied to DHEC's written notice by its deadline to say that it updated its website to change the program's description and removed the list of first responders. In addition, the patient care form was discontinued, Beck wrote in a May 4 letter.

"USC has for decades run a successful first responder program in compliance with all state regulations that provides basic first aid to students while waiting on EMS to arrive," said USC Communications Director Wes Hickman. "After recent guidance from DHEC regarding language on our website, we have closed the program as we conduct a review with DHEC, ensure we continue to be in compliance and build first aid and first responder services that meet the needs of our community."

DHEC filed a Freedom of Information Act request to SHS for additional information regarding the job descriptions for staff, training records, policies and any other forms utilized by SHS for its first responder program. After receiving this information, Beasley said DHEC will provide SHS with written notice of any other violations and make a determination on whether enforcement is appropriate.

The University has created a task force to "explore other business models" moving forward. The task force has 13 members, which includes medical staff from SHS, USC Police, Richland County EMS, DHEC and other University personnel.

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