Students sound off on UHCS

About 15 students gathered Wednesday to voice concerns about their experiences with University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) in the past 18 months.

The students spoke to members of a panel who will make recommendations to UHCS on ways to improve their service in the wake of the merging of the former Lane Health Center and the former University Counseling Services.

Twenty-four UHCS staff members have resigned since the merger. Some cited mishandling of the merger that marginalized employees, while others cited unjust management practices.

To students at Wednesday’s forum, the resignations were not a sign of misplaced financial priorities by the university, or of a new direction in departmental oversight by the administration.

Rather, students like second-year criminology and corrections graduate student Jillian DeBaie could only go on what they saw when dealing with staff.

DeBaie saw her primary care physician since she had been a freshman undergraduate student – Dr. David McBride – missing from the UHCS roster.

“He went above and beyond for me,” DeBaie said to the panel. “Why isn’t he still here? Why aren’t these fantastic people here anymore?”

DeBaie said she has stopped going to UHCS since McBride left last summer. She now goes to a primary care provider at her home in Waltham.

Danny Contreras, a senior biology major, said he had a similar experience when the departures started.

“After my nurse left, another one came to replace her,” he said. “I think she lasted one month before she left.”

Contreras said he has to see a nurse every two weeks for a condition he did not wish to name publicly. He said he grew comfortable with seeing the same nurse every time he went – so much that she started to explain some of the working conditions affecting the health center.

“The sentiment I got was that they would rather leave than work there any longer,” he said.

As a result of his own shuffling, he said he now feels not only that his relationship with his nurse is lacking, but also the treatment he is getting.

He said he finds a less personable staff, and also finds himself being rushed through a center where he was once comfortable.

After her recent experience with the health center, senior philosophy major Anna Seluyanova said she experienced a nurse who was “so green” she didn’t know how handle her issues.

“I was just bamboozled,” she said.

Seluyanova concluded the health center has a new focus.

“Quality has been put on the back burner,” she said. “Someone has decided it was more important to get more students through. I don’t feel like being rushed when I have a long-term problem.”

The students were not short of ideas for the panel to improve the problems they were bringing to the fore.

Without doctors assigned to students, middler biology major Megan Clements said she would like to see some improvement in the referral system.

She offered the idea of having a referral system where doctors would call students for a follow-up after their visit to connect with students and determine whether they need more care.

Clements said such a system would have helped her in a situation earlier last year when results of a medical test were never reported to her.

“When you have something that isn’t resolved that day, you need a follow-up so it doesn’t get batted to the sidelines,” she said.

Clements said the health center wasn’t just a place where students went for one-time care. Thanks to the Massachusetts requirement that college students have health insurance, she said many students, like her, rely on the health center for all their care.

“There’s a fear that if this doesn’t work, there’s nowhere else to turn,” she said.

On the counseling side, which has also lost a large percentage of its staff in the merger, students who attended the forum spoke about a similar shift toward seeing more patients, rather than ensuring their care needs were met on an individual basis.

Along with the calls for change, students offered positive comments as well.

DeBaie said that when she left UHCS to see a doctor at home, she was impressed by the files the university was able to pass on.

“They kept really good records on me,” she said. “It’s all there.”

Contreras commented on the newly renovated UHCS facility in the Forsyth Building.

“There’s a lot of space,” he said. “It’s a really beautiful facility.”

Several participants openly wondered why recently departed Sexual Assault Counselor Laura Weiss left.

One of the students Weiss worked with for a Sexual Assault Counseling class she teaches complained that Weiss had to meet with her on her lunch hour because she didn’t have time.

“She had to meet with me secretly during her lunch hour,” said Amanda Johnston, a senior human services major. “Why does she have to make time in secret to talk about important issues with students?”

Despite the recent controversy, Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Klotzbier said not many students have come to him about a lack of service.

“If students have a concern, I want to know about it,” he said.

Several students also complained of an eight-session cap on counseling.

That drew a response from the university’s Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Life Philomena Mantella. As the architect of the UHCS merger, she sits on the panel.

She said the counseling services has not established a “magic number” for the number of counseling visits.

“The reality is today the restructured UHCS operates with no specific counseling session limit,” she said after the meeting, reached by e-mail.

The panel, known as the Special Committee on Enrollment and Admissions, will continue to gather information until they deliver their final report this summer. They have gathered information from past and present health center employees, faculty and, by means of Wednesday’s forum, students.

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