February 27, 2009

Dean Goff-Crews lists potential health care improvements

Vice President and Dean of Students Kimberly Goff-Crews presented several recommendations to streamline the organizational structure of student health care on campus at a student forum Thursday, sharing the results of a study commissioned last quarter on how to improve services. Goff-Crews said the University would act upon recommendations this year.

The study, conducted by a higher education consulting firm and overseen by Goff-Crews, advocated creating an executive director position that would supervise all the University’s health and wellness services, increasing staffing and hours, creating a unified space for the Student Care Center (SCC) and the Student Counseling and Resource Service (SCRS), increasing education and wellness programs, and reevaluating the structure of student insurance.

A number of students at the meeting came with a list of demands that they handed to Goff-Crews during the question-and-answer portion of the forum. Members of a coalition called Our Health Counts, composed of Graduate Students United, Students Organizing United with Labor, Students for a Democratic Society, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, have raised concerns about what they see as the inadequacy of campus healthcare.

First-year Allie Radomaski presented the list. “I’m speaking on behalf of the Our Health Coalition.... Health care is a right, not a privilege. We realized that the University wasn’t fulfilling its responsibility,” she said.

The list asked that the University “offer better health services to students, follow a better process for delivering those services, and carry out its work inside a better and more appropriate space.” It also requested that “graduate students who work on campus...receive year-long health insurance coverage in exchange for their labor,” that the University of Chicago Medical Center emergency room eliminate policies that the group saw as turning away patients, that Medical Center employees be provided with health care, and that “funding subject to democratic processes.”

Some students from the Our Health Counts coalition said that the issues the report identified matched their own criticism of the care that the University provides. “I want to applaud you guys for being really responsive to student voices,” fourth-year and Our Health Counts member Christina Melander told Goff-Crews. “To me it seems like what students are saying and what the consulting firm said are the same.”

While Radomaski was pleased to hear the results of the study, she felt the issue deserved more decisive action. “I would like to have some sort of forum where we could talk about policy,” she said. “I would like something that has more specific plans for action. The next step would be to move to what’s on the table for how to solve the problems.”

“People think it makes sense,” Goff-Crews said of the study in an interview with the Maroon. “There’s been no push back.” Goff-Crews said the SCC would work to hire one or two additional care providers for this year, try to increase staffing next year, and aim to create and fill the position of an executive director “sometime in the next academic year.” She added that a student advisory board will be created to help the executive director and ensure student input in the management of health and wellness programs.

With regard to addressing other issues identified by the report, such as space and insurance, Goff-Crews said more conversations would be held. In response to a student who commented, “there’s been very poor communication about the services being offered,” Goff-Crews replied that she was willing to sustain a dialogue with students.

“We don’t just have to have one of these meetings. We can have a zillion of these meetings,” she said. She agreed to meet with the Our Health Counts coalition to specifically address their concerns.

Several graduate students at the meeting raised concerns about health care for students who teach in the University but are past their fifth year of study. Goff-Crews said that this had not been discussed so far in conducting the review of health and wellness services.

The SCC has already begun working to expand its hours and its staff this year. It is now open until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and has brought on an additional provider for women’s health services.