Columbia Countys school system has a well-deserved reputation for carefully studying issues before making important changes. In fact, weve often criticized school system leaders for appearing to bury uncomfortable issues by diverting them into committees and task forces.
So why the shallow study and deep-pockets reaction regarding emergency medical needs in schools?
For years, school trustee Roxanne Whitaker has been a virtual voice crying in the wilderness about the lack of ambulances at high school football games. Just as her issue began gaining support from other school officials, Phillip Hill collapsed at a junior varsity football game at Greenbrier High School and was taken to the hospital by helicopter ambulance.
Responding to community concerns - and just as importantly, to be seen responding - the school board is spending $8,000 for Gold Cross EMS to post an ambulance at every high school varsity football game this fall.
Is that the best way to spend this money? Gold Cross had already agreed to put ambulances at games free of charge. The private service wont guarantee the ambulances stay there, however; if theyre called for an emergency outside the stadium, they have to leave. By paying $125 per hour, for about four hours per game, each high school gets a dedicated ambulance.
This quickie solution doesnt put an ambulance at junior varsity games, such as the one in which Hill collapsed. And it doesnt include any other high school or middle school sports. When the varsity football season ends, that $8,000 in taxpayer money is gone - and safety will remain status quo.
We believe there are better ways to invest that money if the object is to not just provide reassurance, but to ensure real safety for athletes, students and spectators:
First, that $8,000 would buy six automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs. These life-saving devices are in 47 Columbia County locations - but not a single public school has one. Six AEDs would be enough to place one at every high school, including the multi-school Lakeside and Greenbrier complexes. With school system support, booster clubs, parent organizations and community business partners could buy AEDs for the rest of the countys schools.
Second, the money could pay for emergency medical training for coaches and other personnel. Superintendent Tommy Price told trustees Tuesday he was pleasantly surprised to find how many coaches already have such training; training the rest shouldnt be a problem.
Third, medically trained volunteers are already a tremendously valuable asset to the schools. Many more of them should be encouraged to make themselves available.
It didnt take a study to come up with these ideas, just a little common sense. With both, Columbia County schools could come up with a good plan for improving safety - and to spend our money wisely.
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