Students Express Ill Will Over Health Center Appointment Process

Being sick in college is quite the pain for many students. Your mother isn’t there to tend to your needs, to drive you to your doctor and make you chicken noodle soup. Being in college entails tending to your own needs. Making doctor appointments should be a fairly easy task, but sometimes it is difficult for SUNY New Paltz students to obtain an appointment at the Student Health Center.

Andrew Harris, a third-year geography major said there was a time when he dislocated his knee and tried to make an appointment with the Student Health Center.

“I called and the woman who answered the phone said something I couldn’t understand. I said, ‘what?’ and she told me ‘that’s rude, say excuse me’ and proceeded to hang up on me.”

Harris said he immediately called again but there was no answer. He called the center the next day and spoke with a staff member who said that they would look into it, but nothing was done.

“The Health Center should be serving student’s health needs, but it seems that they are more concerned with student’s manners,”
said Harris.

According to Lori Mitchell, the nurse manager, there has been no record of such behavior from the staff.

“That doesn’t sound like our staff, we are pretty student-oriented and here to accommodate the needs of our students,” said Mitchell.

There are over 190-200 visits per week at the Student Health Center. There are two main providers, one family doctor per day and six nurse practitioners working full-time.

Appointments are made by registered nurses who are trained in assessment and use triaging, a process where injured people are sorted based on their need for or likely benefit from immediate medical treatment.

“15 percent of the people that call can be seen by a nurse, if it’s a cold or flu where we can administer Robitussin and Tylenol, that sort of thing,”said Mitchell. “If a student wants an appointment we try to accommodate them but there are specific things we ask to determine whether they are seen immediately or given an appointment that day as opposed to tomorrow.”

Mitchell said that if students are uncomfortable and want to see the doctor, they will certainly be given an appointment.

Dr. Richard J. Ordway Jr., the acting director of the Health Center, said he can recall the difficulty in obtaining appointments in light of an unusual situation where the assistant director Susan Allen was out on medical leave and another provider was out for the semester.

“We were down on providers and by looking at how many visits per day/week, we are working to accommodate the students,” said Ordway.

“Our focus here is to provide more for our students during peak times such as Friday afternoon, Monday morning and when it is the most busiest — flu season which changes from mid- November to early December then coming out of the winter from February to March.”

Brooke Sanders, a third-year business management major, was dealing with a painful urinary tract infection when she went to the health center. There, she was told that she had to wait two days for an appointment because the doctor was not in. She was instead referred to a doctor off-campus where she ended up paying a $25 co-pay and $18 for medicine.

“It would’ve been free at the health center but I didn’t want to be in pain for another two days,” said Sanders. “It’s one thing when someone has a stomachache but when someone is actually in a lot of pain and you send them away with no help, it sucks. It’s like, ‘what are you here for if you can’t help someone when they actually need it?’”

Students are referred off-campus when there are no appointments left or if something is more serious than what the health center can address. Either an ambulance is called or students are referred to First Care on Route 299 in Highland.

Lauren Piven, a third-year anthropology major, said she is quite familiar with strep throat. She called the Health Center early on a Monday and was told that there were no appointments available at all. Piven, who was severely dehydrated, denied an ambulance because of how expensive they are, and ended up taking a cab to Vassar Brothers Medical Center.

“If they don’t have room for appointments, they don’t have appointments,” said Piven. “I know it’s not their fault but it makes me mad they suggested me to go to another clinic without giving me a ride and referring health documents.”

Piven said he believes that being referred would not be a problem only if the Health Center called the hospital to let them know what was going on.

“The system is not organized well enough and they need to have more communication with other clinics and hospitals,”said Piven. “If they don’t have the resources to treat students, they need to set up another way to get in touch with these clinics so that its easier to treat us students.”