SBU Health and Wellness Center: bad reputation or bad service?

[Photo courtesy of sbu.edu]

By Whitney Downard

Students at St. Bonaventure University, a small college of 1,800 students in rural Western New York, have a few options when seeking medical care. MASH Urgent Care and Olean General Hospital, both less than four miles from campus, and the free, on-campus health services center diagnose, treat and prescribe medication for students in need.

The Center for Student Wellness, open weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., has a medical provider on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Yet students still choose the costly and time-consuming alternatives to health services, either heeding a friend’s warning about the center or because of their past experiences there.

“I was bedridden for about four days. I couldn’t keep anything down – not even water – and could barely sit up,” said Kailyn Jennings. “I went to the health center and was so light headed I thought I would pass out there.”

According to Jennings, a journalism and mass communication graduate of 2015, the medical staff instructed her to lie down and said they couldn’t do anything for her except give her juice. Jennings’ roommate had to come, physically support Jennings out to the car and take her to urgent care, where she was diagnosed with two viruses and a sinus infection.

“They gave me antibiotics and nausea medicine, and I was good to go,” said Jennings. “Needless to say, I am not fond of the health center because my problem had such an easy solution, which they did not consider.”

Kelly Delaney, a senior, sprained her ankle stepping off a curb her freshman year. Delaney said the pain was so bad that she couldn’t walk.

“The Wellness Center made me wait three hours for an appointment when I sprained my ankle,” said Delaney, an accounting major. “I missed two final review sessions, and they refused to give me crutches until I told them I wasn’t leaving without them.”

Depending on the severity of the muscular skeletal injuries, such as Delaney’s sprained ankle, the center distributes crutches and approves the use of an elevator key. But to get an elevator key students need to walk from the center in Doyle Hall to the Reilly Center, less than a five-minute walk, and get a key from the Office of Residential Living on the second floor.

“They wouldn’t call or make it easier for me to get it,” said Delaney. “I wouldn’t recommend the Wellness Center in a situation like my foot but maybe for something less serious.”

Today, three years later, that policy hasn’t changed. But since Delaney’s experience, the university hired Becky Seefeldt, a nurse practitioner, to run health services.

“The healthcare that was here hadn’t been consistent. There was really no ownership that was felt by the medical providers that were here,” said Seefeldt, who has been a nurse practitioner for 23 years. “So when they hired me that was one thing that they wanted to change.”

Seefeldt, the campus medical provider, works part time at the center, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In addition to Seefeldt, the center employs one full-time licensed practical nurse and two part-time licensed practical nurses.

According to Seefeldt, who has a doctoral degree in family practice, the center sees up to 20 students per day. Most students visit the center to treat viral illnesses: sore throats, nasal congestion or gastrointestinal distress. Students might also visit the center to treat muscular skeletal injuries, such as a concussion or sprained ankle, and for the center’s limited STD testing.

Bonaventure does not charge students a copay for visiting the health center or for tests administered. The tests offered through the center, including strep, influenza, pertussis, and urine cultures, do not require authorization from student’s insurance because they are not extensive, according to Seefeldt.

Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can be detected through urine cultures. Students wishing to test for the full spectrum of STDs can visit the county health department, which charges based on a sliding fee scale, according to Seefeldt.

Seefeldt stressed that the university funds the center so that students can both visit and use its antibiotics free of cost. Because of its nature, the center has a relatively short waiting time, taking at most a few hours to obtain an appointment.

“In the real world, you’re going to wait a few days,” said Seefeldt.

At Houghton College, a school of about 1,100 students in western New York, each student pays a $200 fee directly to the healthcare center, as outlined under their ‘Tuition and Fees’ tab on the school website.

This fee allows students to take certain healthcare tests for free, including pregnancy tests and strep tests, but doesn’t extend to STDs. The healthcare center refers students wishing to test for STDs to the county, according to Leah Burgess, an RN at Houghton Health Services.

Houghton’s college physician, David Brubaker, also works as an assistant professor of biology, according to the website.

Brubaker, also the director of Health Services, is available four afternoons and one morning a week. In his absence, three registered nurses and a nurse manager operate the health center, according to Burgess.

At Alfred University, a school of about 2,300 students in western New York, funding for the healthcare center comes from tuition, according to Rene Richardson, the health services medical office assistant.

Alfred’s center charges students for lab testing only to replenish their stock. A pregnancy test would cost a student $2 and a test for mono would cost $5. Alfred also offers the ‘morning-after pill.’ As for STDs, Alfred sends the tests to a lab which bills the student’s health insurance, according to Richardson.

Alfred’s physician is available on Wednesdays, but a full-time nurse practitioner is on-staff, according to Richardson.

Seefeldt said she felt that most of the problems with the center’s reputation come from low student expectations.

“I’ve had some people come in and they’re like ‘I thought you could just get band aids here,’” said Seefeldt, adding that the center can do much more than distribute band aids.

Alternatively, some students expected too much from the center.

“Health services at college universities aren’t there for primary care. It’s more for episodic,” said Seefeldt.

To improve student perception of the center, the university has asked Seefeldt to address incoming freshman classes.

“So they will know what we do, what we don’t do, and what we can help with,” said Seefeldt.

For now, students rely on word of mouth to learn about the services offered at the center. And for students seeking to learn more about the center, its webpage offers little information.

The center shares its page with the Counseling Center, has a warning about Ebola, doesn’t identify the “SBU Medical Provider” and lists different hours for the medical provider than Seefeldt reports working. Its description, less than 125 words, doesn’t outline any of the services offered at the center.

In contrast, both Alfred and Houghton’s websites give specifics about services and policies of their centers. Alfred’s staff profiles even include pictures and clinical interests of each staffer, ranging from GLBTQ healthcare to STD prevention and counseling.

Seefeldt said her goal at the center is provide consistent, quality and credible care to students.

“We’re all mom’s and nurses [here],” said Seefeldt. “We care about our students.”

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