Along with the cold temperatures, snow-covered sidewalks, and less sunlight, Chicago is entering the throes of flu season. But if you wake up sick one morning and need to make an appointment with the Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS), forget about seeing a physician within the next 24 hours. As reported in the Maroon today, the wave of progress for student health services on campus has come to an abrupt halt recently, and the SHCS is slowly backpedaling on promises it made last year for improved care. For the welfare of students, the University should assess ways to maintain 24-hour appointments and find temporary backups in case the SHCS cannot meet demand in the future.
Exorbitantly long waits are nothing new at the Student Care Center: Two years ago, students could expect to wait a week or longer for an appointment. But last winter when the University appointed a new administrator and revamped the SHCS, it looked like the problem was finally being addressed and that students could, for the time being, count on the University for timely health service. However, 24-hour appointments have been “compromised,” wrote Assistant Vice President for SHCS Alex Lickerman, because one physician has recently left the University. The fact that one doctor leaving the SHCS could triple the wait time for students is concerning, especially because such a center should expect to have fairly frequent staff turnovers compared to a hospital or private practice. Complicating the matter is the fact that University bureaucracy practically guarantees several weeks before a replacement is made.
Whether it’s finding a temporary patch for this problem (like hiring doctors or nurses from the Medical Center) or a permanent fix (Lickerman has been stressing that the SHCS needs a larger space), one thing is for sure: There needs to be a solution. The case for timely appointments is obvious. Most students don’t have primary care doctors in Hyde Park and rely on University-provided services when they get sick; if a student becomes ill and can only get an SHCS appointment a week later, it’s a threat to her health and schoolwork. Furthermore, someone who is highly contagious or has a serious illness could be pressured to “wait it out” or self-medicate because the only viable alternative is going to the emergency room.
What makes matters even worse is the University’s lack of communication to students about these vital changes. Yesterday, Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews sent out a “Winter Quarter Update” to students that could have addressed the SHCS development. Instead, the update only vaguely states that the Office of Campus and Student Life has “streamlined [its] services in support of students during emergencies.” The only notice that the University has given of the changes, a brief memo from Lickerman posted on the University’s health care site, suggests that support of students during emergencies is actually in a worse state than before.
Along with timely updates on the SHCS to students, the University should make it a priority to establish a system that ensures 24-hour or 48-hour appointments, especially if there are staffing changes taking place. This may even involve temporarily hiring doctors or nurses from the Medical Center. If the SHCS is being supported through student fees, the University should provide services that students can feel good about.
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