The VSU Health Center has received 1,066 patients within the first 15 days of this semester. There are concerns from the students and faculty about the compensation of enrollment growth since and referrals to off-campus doctors.
According to Dr. Edwin Hiatt, director of student health center, the new facility, which opened in January of this year, has not only increased square footage, but also expanded its health and wellness capabilities.
In regards to the compensation of the enrollment growth, Dr. Hiatt provides statistics.
Within the first 15 days of this semester there were a total of 1,066 patients that were treated at the Student Health Center, compared to 903 students for the same period of time in 2008 — an increase of 163 patients.
The Student Health Center has one physician and two nurse practitioners for a total of three providers. On a normal schedule, there are at least eight nurses on duty during regular operating hours, plus various administrative staff and medical technicians, according to Dr. Hiatt.
“The increase in services and medical staff provides opportunity to service more students as the university continues to grow,” Dr. Hiatt said. “We are also looking at the possibility of allowing students to make appointments online and automated calls for appointment reminders.”
With the opening of the new facility, additional staff members including an X-ray technician, health provider, two fulltime LPNs and one medical lab technician were hired.
The Student Health Center also has a pool of temporary health professionals from the community that can be called in to work additional hours if the situation warrants extra help.
“I had the flu recently and was running a fever on Tuesday,” Mary Hilgeman, second year graduate student said. “When I called to schedule an appointment, I was told there wasn’t any appointments available until the following Monday, but if I could come in early the next morning, I may be able to see a nurse.”
Hilgeman was referred to an off-campus doctor.
“I ended up going to a doctor’s office off-campus because there weren’t many nurses available,” Hilgeman said. “They were not very helpful, but I understand they were very busy.”
Hilgeman is not the only one.
“I haven’t been to the Health Center in a while because they really don’t have any appointments available,” Whitley Monroe, junior early childhood major, said. “They referred me to another doctor, but I just found my own.”
There have been an abundance of appointments, but there has also been an abundance of no-shows.
“The increase in patients from 2008 to 2009 (first 15 days of the semester) is about an 18 percent increase, which is equal to the number of no-shows on an average day,” Dr. Hiatt said. “If students would cancel their appointments, it would free up needed times for students who need immediate care.”
The increase in appointments has no correlation with the H1N1 virus.
“Also, the increase in patients so far this semester is comparable to the increase in enrollment for the year,” Dr. Hiatt said. “Therefore, the additional patients this year do not suggest an increase due to H1N1 or other flu-like illnesses.”
Some students feel differently.
“I believe that had the swine flu not been going around campus, I would have been able to actually use the doctor that my tuition is paying for,” Monroe said.
Still, students feel that the Health Center can improve.
“I think in order to improve, they should try to get people in faster if at all possible or get more staff members,” Hilgeman said. “You can’t tell a sick person to come back in a week because that would mean enduring illness until appointment time, being fine by then, or the symptoms will have worsened. In the past, I was able to get appointments within the same day or the next.”
The Health Center schedules appointment according to the severity of the illness.
“We annually review our staffing patterns to insure that we have the appropriate staffing level, particularly with nurses and physicians,” Dr. Hiatt said. “The medical staff at the Student Health Center uses a triage method to determine the severity of illnesses, based on standard medical protocol and CDC guidelines. Then appointments are scheduled accordingly.”
“I believe the health center is a success because it is on campus and they have really nice caring people working there, but they could improve in keeping their appointments on time,” Monroe said. “You can get there early and still not be seen at the correct time.”
When asked about future precautions that are being made for flu season, Dr. Hiatt provides the procedure to dealing with such issues.
“Both the seasonal and H1N1 flu virus continues to circulate widely within the U.S., including Georgia, and we are seeing an increase in flu-like symptoms as well as other respiratory symptoms and a variety of health issues,” Dr. Hiatt said. “We treat each patient based on their personal health issues and follow CDC guidelines with regards to treatments with anti-viral medications.”
The question still remains if students will be able to get the help they need in a timely manner.
“I don’t believe anyone will be able to see an on-campus doctor if this gets any worse; we’ll all be referred to the doctor’s off-campus,” Monroe said. “Thank God I have health insurance because seeing a doctor without health insurance costs so much, and students are working minimum wage and part-time jobs.”