Section: News

High fees, limited hours

High fees, limited hours

Photo by Kristen Huffman

When Katie Samples ’18 went to the Health and Counseling Center for a sprained ankle in September, she didn’t think she would find herself at Knox Community Hospital (KCH) a few days later. But when the joints in her legs began to swell after her initial visit, she saw no other option but to drive into Mount Vernon because the Health Center was closed for the weekend.

“I ended up having to sit in the hospital for five and a half hours, waiting for them to do an assessment on whether or not I had a blood clot,” Samples said. “I honestly feel I would have been better taken care of in the Health Center.”

Samples’ case brings to light an issue that has long plagued Kenyon students: whether or not they can receive treatment at the Health Center depends on the day. If students go to the Health Center between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, they can see a nurse practitioner on duty or make an appointment with Dr. Amy Murnen or Dr. Natalie Dick on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But at any other time, students must either wait until the weekend is over, contact Campus Safety to get in touch with a nurse practitioner on call or arrange for transport to Urgent Care — for people who need immediate care, but do not have a disease or injury of a serious nature — or KCH. Emergency transportation to Urgent Care or the hospital is free, according to Director of Campus Safety Bob Hooper, but once the students are there, they are financially responsible for any treatment they receive.

With a mandatory health and counseling fee that adds up to $1,620 a year, Kenyon students pay more than students at the other Five Colleges of Ohio — the College of Wooster, Denison University, Oberlin College and Ohio Wesleyan University — combined. Denison and Wooster students have 24/7 access to care at their health centers; students at Wooster pay $500 a year for care while those at Denison pay $610 per year, according to the colleges’ websites. Oberlin students, who have access to Saturday hours, pay $200 a year, and OWU students pay no mandatory fee, but rather pay for services through their own insurance. Without access to the health center at night or on weekends, the number of students who need treatment tends to build up, and Kim Cullers, director of health services and a nurse practitioner, is taking notice.

“We are overwhelmed,” Cullers said. “When I walk in here on Monday at 8:30, I have maybe three patients scheduled. By noon, I’m completely full and I’m often double-booked, so I’ll have two patient visits in one time slot.”

Cullers said she occasionally sees up to 60 patients per day, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, and 30 to 50 on any other given day of the week. She believes this trend is due to the buildup of diseases and injuries that occur over weekends.

To accommodate the rising number of students, the Health and Counseling Center recently hired another nurse practitioner so three would be on duty to help students during operating hours instead of two, which has been the number in years past.

Cullers said the College is reluctant to extend the Health Center’s hours because it could raise the health and counseling fee.

The College has tried extending the Health Center’s hours before, Cullers said. “Before my tenure here, they attempted to have some Saturday hours. But what they discovered was that they were very poorly attended, and it didn’t justify the cost of opening the Health Center on the weekends.”

Cullers said Wooster and OWU are able to charge their students less in health and counseling fees because they bill insurance companies directly, so the colleges get reimbursed by insurance companies for seeing students, which offsets the cost of operations. The other Ohio Five colleges charge students extra for laboratory and mental health counseling services, something Kenyon covers as part of its mandatory health and counseling fee, Cullers said. The mandatory fee also allows students to come into the Health Center during operating hours without having to pay a per-visit fee, unlike at Wooster, which charges students $20 dollars per visit.

For students without insurance who need to seek care in Mount Vernon, the cost of their medical bills may be significantly more expensive. KCH outlines emergency room fees on their website according to five levels relative to the severity of the patient’s condition: Level 1 emergencies include situations that require only initial assessment, costing $202. Level 2 emergencies cost $282, which includes treatment of minor lacerations, viral infections and simple trauma with no X-rays. This does not include drug or physician’s fees, which can often add hundreds of dollars to medical expenses.

For most level 1 and some level 2 cases, students may go to the Health Center and receive treatment at no extra cost, except for additional medication. If students don’t have insurance and go to urgent care or KCH because the Health Center is closed, expenses can add up.

Samples was able to get to the hospital because she had a car on campus. But for students like Hannah Hippen ’18, who had a serious cold but no access to transportation, getting medical care during the weekends is difficult. The College Township Fire Department owns one ambulance to transport students to the hospital or urgent care, according to Hooper. Those who don’t require immediate medical attention have to find a way to transport themselves.

Recently, Cullers and Hank Toutain, dean of student affairs, have been working on a plan with Campus Safety that would provide students 24/7 transportation to urgent care and KCH through a local cab service. Miracle Mahle, Campus Safety’s administrative assistant and transportation coordinator, is heading the project, but said she did not want to give any concrete details — including an estimated timeline — until negotiations were finalized.

Mahle said the service will not only be for students who need access to KCH or urgent care, but also for students who have to make it to medical appointments during the week. Cullers and Toutain hope the service will ease some students’ frustrations concerning transportation and care on campus. Both said Safety is “very close” to making a deal with the cab service, but declined to elaborate any further.

As an alternative to 24-hour access, students can contact a nurse practitioner on call at any time through Campus Safety.

Eliza Abendroth ’18, who has used the nurse practitioner-on-call before, said the system is helpful but does little for students in need of care. “Since they’re on call and they can’t come see you, they can’t really tell you anything about what’s wrong with you,” Abendroth said.

For students like Hippen, who need access to medical aid during weekends, these options still may not be enough.

“Not having weekend hours is ineffective for a campus where students are inevitably living,” Hippen said.

Lauren Eller contributed reporting.

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