Center for Health and Wellness remodeled

by Beacon Staff • October 8, 2008

Emerson's Center for Health and Wellness has expanded, adding updated examination rooms and upgraded equipment and technology, which officials there say will help clinicians to better serve the college's growing on-campus population.

Two new examination rooms were added by knocking down a wall to an adjacent lecture room. A new storage area will store patient files, which previously cluttered the lab and equipment room.

A workstation consisting of a desk and computer was installed in the center's conference room, a space previously used to store an overrun of medical files. An opaque glass partition was also placed in the waiting room to offer more privacy.

"Because we had such a huge spike in student population at Emerson, and we are required to keep medical information on file for seven years, we needed more space," said Jane Powers, director of the center. "Now we can really utilize the space."

Construction ran from May through the last week of August, although the center is still waiting for some equipment to be installed in the coming weeks.

The health center is one of several expansion and renovation projects around campus this year, as the Iwasaki Library, the Walker Building Light Well Project and various studios and student spaces have grown to accommodate more bodies on campus.

"From my own perspective, the wellness center's renovation and expansion was long overdue," said Dean of Students Ronald Ludman.

The renovations were the first substantial improvements made to the center in 13 years. The college declined to divulge the cost of the renovation.

"The improved facilities and equipment is something that our students deserved, as did the clinical staff who works extraordinarily hard delivering health care to our students," Ludman said.

Meanwhile no new staffers have been added to the payroll, leaving a stagnant number of medical professionals to serve a growing on-campus population; in the last two years alone, the number of students living in dormitories has increased 27 percent, said Powers.

Although she said the college's growth speeded the decision to expand the wellness center, a request for more clinicians was declined.

"The budget would not allow for new staff," she said. But Powers said medical professionals there, however, do not anticipate difficulty in serving students.

Four of the seven employees are certified to see patients: two nurse practitioners, a supervising physician and a physician's assistant.

Currently the center records approximately 40 visits per day, and took 6,132 appointments last year.

Massachusetts State Law mandates updated vaccination records remain on file prior to and during every college student's education in the Commonwealth. Health records generated after each visit are also kept on file for seven years, Powers said.

One of the more dramatic upgrades was to the student waiting area, which is more than double its former size. "The entrance and reception area were so close together that students really didn't have enough privacy," Powers said.

Despite the change of environment at the center, some students said they are often left waiting for 15 to 20 minutes beyond their appointment time, with some forced to reschedule when the unexpected delay cuts into class time or conflicts with a previous engagement.

"There have been times where I got there and had to wait like 10 minutes in the waiting room, and like 30 minutes in the exam room," said junior Samantha Higgins.

"I thought they might have forgotten about me," the writing, literature and publishing major said.

The mandatory health fee for the academic school year is $276 for undergraduates and, according to Emerson's Web site, the fee "helps cover the college's health clinic and programs, including the Counseling Center."

Powers said the money from health fees will not be used to hire more physicians or nurses, since the fee cannot go to salaries, Powers said.

Some students who complained of longer waiting said they were suffering serious afflictions.

Higgins said last year she had keratitis, a serious eye infection, and was displeased with how long it took to see a clinician.

"It wasn't a situation where I had a cold-I literally could not see," she said.

Powers said although there is still equipment yet to be installed, but the appointment and check in system has not changed. "We're seeing more students with the increase in space, and nothing has really been slowed down."

But Higgins said she isn't convinced of an improvement. "They just seem kind of unorganized," she said. "If it's not an emergency, they take their time. I think it would really help if they had more people in there or at least a better system of seeing people."