SPECIAL Wellness Wednesday: Understanding Changes to the Health Center

Do you like our Health center? Or do you walk out frustrated when you can’t get an appointment, or if you can’t walk out with your drugs right away? This week Greg Rosen brings us a comprehensive understanding of the administration’s recent announcement calling changes to the Bowdoin Health Center. This new change may not bring the benefits the administration calls for. Read below:

Two weeks ago, the Bowdoin Orient published a review of the possible changes to the Health Center’s structure following Sandra Hayes’ departure. Conceivable modifications to the Health Center model include: outsourcing the Health Center’s services to a private firm, outsourcing administrative work to another healthcare provider, and maintaining the current model with a replacement Director of Health Services.

While acknowledging the shortcomings of any system is healthy, and entertaining the possibility of change is important, there still are many overlooked benefits to the current Health Services model, which (if changed) could put the longevity of these benefits at risk.

For instance, under the current College model, Bowdoin employs all staff members of the Health Center. These excellent healthcare providers voluntarily chose to work in a college setting. They have a personal investment in community health and are passionate about the health issues college-aged students face. When a student makes an appointment at the Health Center, the care this student receives is informed by campus knowledge and a community-based approach to healthcare.

Empathy goes a long way in health.

Outsourcing the Health Center may mean an end to healthcare providers with a specific interest in working in a college environment. While such a structural change may bring more walk-in hours and shorter wait times, it may also mean the type of care Bowdoin students receive will lack knowledge and understanding of the campus culture and norms that inherently influence the health issues we face.

It might also inhibit establishing personal relationships with the Health Center staff. For many students, being able to meet with a particular staff member is important in evaluating the Health Center’s work. Discussing particular health issues can be challenging and triggering for some students, and having a Health Center staff member act the role of not only a provider but also a confidant and mentor can facilitate honest discourse between provider and patient. Upon outsourcing the Health Center to another firm, that personal contact may no longer exist. It may be difficult for students to establish rapport with a particular clinical worker if these posts at Bowdoin are merely rotational, meaning reaching that point where the student feels comfortable sharing sensitive information with a healthcare provider may be much longer and more strenuous.

Time, however, is precious at Bowdoin. We can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s understandable that some students would prefer to be seen by Health Center staff immediately, have a quick appointment, get antibiotics, and then get out. For many other students at Bowdoin, spending time with their healthcare providers and forging personal bonds with them are essential to the way they navigate health issues in their college years. Indeed, relationships with Health Center staff are integral to many students’ Bowdoin experience, and a change in the model may put that type of experience in jeopardy.

Outsourcing the Health Center, in addition, can rupture vital relationships between the Health Center staff and other College staff/student groups. The equivalent of “Sex with Sandra,” organized by the Health Center’s Sandra Hayes and prompting students to flock en masse to 24 College, may not exist if clinical practitioners show no interest in working outside of clinical hours to help student groups promote health and wellness. Free Plan B Days – another program Peer Health runs in partnership with the Health Center – may no longer be possible if staff members of an outsourced Health Center take no initiative in spearheading the program.

While these programs and events fall outside the clinical practice of current staff members of the Health Center, they are vital to the wellness promotion efforts of campus groups, like Peer Health. Raising awareness of health issues, disseminating medically accurate health-related information to students, and providing students with tools and resources to navigate the complex health environment that we call College would be significantly stifled without the help of the Health Center.

Regardless of student posture on the Health Center and possible structural changes ahead, recognizing all the options and being mindful of what may no longer exist following changes to the Health Center’s current model are vital to an informed understanding of the issues Dean Foster and the College are currently wrestling. We encourage all Bowdoin students to learn more about these possible changes and voice their opinions about them.

We are lucky to have a Health Center that employs staff members trained in college-campus health literacy and competency, hands out barrier methods and emergency contraception on demand, and has strong partnerships with other on-campus resources which help cultivate a holistic vision of College health and wellness.