Doctor’s abrupt exit has Primary Care scrambling

A physician left suddenly at the end of December, leaving the Primary Care Service too understaffed to guarantee that it will take appointments made just 24-hours in advance.

By Benjamin Pokross

The unexpected departure of a single physician at the University’s Primary Care Service (PCS) has hindered the health provider’s ability to see patients on short notice.

Now short of full-time physicians, PCS can no longer promise that appointments can be made within 24 hours, according to Alex Lickerman, Assistant Vice President for Student Health and Counseling Services. The physician, whose name Lickerman declined to give, resigned without notifying PCS in advance, leaving it with a 30-hour shortfall every week.

Lickerman would not indicate how much longer in advance appointments would have to be made. “It is a week-by-week state of affairs,” he said. PCS has also curbed its hours slightly, closing on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.

He added that emergency cases will always be accommodated.

“Emergencies are always a top priority. If someone comes in with an emergency, we’ll be able to cover them,” he said.

The staff shortage poses questions about the resources of the fledgling agency, which was created in fall quarter during a consolidation and reorganization of the University’s Student Health and Counseling Services.

Throughout fall quarter, PCS promised that it could take appointments just 24 hours in advance, but even then the service was understaffed, Lickerman said.

“I don’t have a deep enough bench,” he said. “I’m limited in hiring them because of the space. The service’s facilities in Wyler Pavilion, on 58th Street and Maryland Avenue, have too few examination rooms,” he said.

A new space that would house all branches of the Student Health and Counseling Services including PCS, Health Promotion and Wellness, and Student Counseling Services,would be ideal, he said. Even renovations of the existing Wyler Pavilion would fall short of PCS’s needs.

“Even if I’m able to add one exam room, I will not be able to add enough staff to cover the needs of this campus,” he said.

Lickerman said that he is looking into two immediate solutions for the shortfall in available physicians. One is to transfer the University’s “primary care group” doctors, who usually practice out of the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), to PCS. PCS has already managed to recoup some of its losses using UCMC physicians, Lickerman said, but is still far short of covering the 32 hours of care-giving necessary for restoring the 24-hour standard.

Another solution is to hire a locum tenens physician, who would work on a temporary basis. However, the University’s vetting process for physicians would prevent anyone from taking the position before February 15.

The search has already begun for a full-time replacement, but the earliest that a physician could begin work would be the end of February, according to Lickerman.