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For your own safety: Sobering Up

October 20, 2015

Naylor said that the day after he was taken into protective custody, he woke up at ACT 1, in a windowless room, lying on what appeared to be a hospital bed. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go,” Naylor said. “I mean I didn’t even remember getting there.”

According to ACT 1 staff, the facility has six beds: one room with three beds, two rooms with one bed and an extra cot.

The availability of a bed depends not only on how many people are filling them but also on the gender of the people in them, as each room is gender-segregated, said Uli Schygulla, program director for ACT 1/BRIDGE.

“We’ve never had both men and women in the same room, absolutely not,” ACT 1 clinician Kathleen Lowrie said.

Last school year, 10 percent of students screened by ACT 1 were denied a bed because none were available, according to ACT 1’s monthly reports.

Bob Bick, chief executive officer of the Howard Center, said that ACT 1 has enough beds to meet the demand of incapacitated students.

“As you might imagine, a significant number of [students] may find themselves in a situation in which their alcohol consumption brings them into contact with someone who might be concerned about their well being, whether that’s law enforcement or a friend or family member,” Bick said.

When an ACT 1 clinician screens somebody, they see how drunk the person is, in a way not unlike the police. This can include physical signs, like if they are able to walk and talk, as well as a vitals check and a Breathalyzer test, he said.

ACT 1 screens between 2,200 and 2,500 people per year, Bick said.

More students that show up at ACT 1 when major events take place in Burlington, Schygulla said.

“Its event-based,” Schygulla said. “If there’s a big show at Higher Ground, if it’s [the] naked bike ride, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, beginning of school, final exams.”

When Ryan woke up in ACT 1, he said he had already missed the majority of his morning classes. He tried to leave, but ACT 1 staff told him he had to test under a .02, he said.

“I said, ‘When can I leave?’ and they said, ‘You have to blow under a .02,’ and I said, ‘I have to get to a lab. It’s really important,’” Ryan said.

He said the staff told him he could leave before he tested under a BAC of .02, but they would call the police.

“She said it like a threat,” Ryan said.

Anyone who is in ACT 1 is free to leave at any time; however, if they do not register under a BAC of .08, or .02, for those under 21, ACT 1 will call the police, Bick said.

In order to discourage students possibly still above the BAC limit from leaving, ACT 1 staff is told to encourage them to stay, said Neil Metzner, director of Crisis Services for the Howard Center.  

“Staff are instructed to encourage the folks to stay, say ‘Gee, it’s kind of dark out now,’ or ‘It’s a little early,’ or ‘You’d feel a lot better if you gave it another two hours,’ but we’re not going to intervene physically with them,” Metzner said.

ACT 1 clinician Kathleen Lowrie said patients are not made aware they can leave at any time for their own safety.

“We encourage them to stay,” Lowrie said.  “You know, because of course it’s safer for them to be with us than wandering around trying to get back up to school or to their apartment or whatever.”

Ryan said after waiting an extended period, he did not take a Breathalyzer test, but he was able to leave.

“Being in ACT 1 itself is awful, waking up in that place,” he said. “All the identical beds, the identical rooms, white walled. They look like hospital rooms.

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