Parton Health Center has announced that it will no longer be providing 24-hour service to the Middlebury College community. Likely as part of larger cost-cutting efforts, the Health Center will be open from 8AM to 9PM Monday through Friday and Noon to 4PM on Weekends starting this Fall. This shifts the burden of evening care on to the town of Middlebury and, in particular, Porter Hospital’s Emergency Room located beyond the athletic fields.
Students who are overly intoxicated on weekend nights will be brought directly to the Porter Hospital emergency room by Public Safety. Public Safety will also facilitate the transport of students to Porter Hospital on an as-needed basis.
A sampling of peer institutions show that many other schools also do not provide overnight care. Dartmouth provides a call-in after hours helpline. Bates appears to be the only peer to have 24-hour coverage now. The Parton Health Center mission statement still reads: “[we]…are committed to providing and promoting high quality, comprehensive acute health care in a clinic and overnight infirmary setting” (emphasis added). (Update: now removed from their website as well). Calls and emails to Assoc. Director of the Health Center Terry Jenny were not returned as the Health Center does not open until September 2nd, the week before classes begin. Students await a statement from the administration regarding the important changes.
I was on a campus tour yesterday and a prospective family asked about “the infirmary.” The tourguide honestly explained the change from a 24-hour model to daytime model. The parental chatter in the back of the tour group was decidedly negative. “If they’re cutting the infirmary, I wonder what else they’re cutting,” remarked one parent.
I am worried about this move by the College. I don’t know the financial savings of this, but I do know that safety is a huge student and parent issue. My take: without a major information campaign, this change will drive intoxicated students away from seeking medical help when they need it late at night after partying. I was told as a freshmen: “you won’t get in trouble if you go to the health center; we’d rather you be safe than punished.” Closing the health center at night throws that idea out the window by making a trip to the hospital seem punitive. Going to Porter Hospital, before this announcement, was stigmatized whereas going to the Health Center was not.
But in reality, if one is worried about getting “in trouble,” both Porter and Parton are more or less the same. If you are charged for any type of care regardless of what facility, the payer of the service will be informed by way of your insurance company. If you pay your own insurance, your parents will never find out. If your parents pay your insurance, they will get the bill with a description of the services provided. The issue, though, is that if you show up at the Health Center and they don’t treat you with anything that requires writing up insurance, no one will know. If you show up at the Hospital and do anything but wait in the waiting area, you will be required to pay and therefore go through the insurance process.
As for Public Safety and underage drinking citations, I would argue that Public Safety has shifted away from the model in which citations are the end-all, be-all. If you need to go to the hospital for drinking issues, that’s a much larger issue than a citation. And if you ask Public Safety to bring you or a friend to the hospital, they will be much more concerned for your safety than citing you.
Ultimately, it comes down to a culture of responsibility. Middlebury students will have to adapt to a culture in which going to Porter Hospital is the safest and most reasonable option at 2am on a Saturday night. The Health Center was a mental safety net more than it actually was used for its three beds. But administrators should not underestimate this mental safety net and the ingrained nature of our current system among returning students. Now more than ever, community counts. Having a hospital so close by is a blessing, but it might be tough to convince students to not stay put in dorms and wait instead of seeking medical treatment. The amount of heavy drinking will not go down, and the last thing we want is to drive the drinking culture further underground. The absence of a health center can’t turn into any type of excuse.
Update 8/20: Parton Health Center has taken down what’s on their website.
Update 8/21: Parton Health Center has put up their fall hours again. And now has a page advising on After Hours Care. Take a look at more of the detailed options.
Update 12:30PM: A all-student email from Dean of Students Gus Jordan went out discussing the changes outlined above in more detail as well as H1N1 preparedness. Some better-informed tidbits are in this letter which is to be mailed to parents soon:
- Only 4% of all health-related student involvement with the Health Center occurs at night. Most of these calls and visits are for non-urgent matters that can wait until the next morning.
- Porter Hospital staff and the College “enjoy an active, collegial relationship.”
- The College is pushing for students to find out, know, and call their insurance nurse advice line or wait until the morning for care if it’s not an emergency.
- “We offer 24-hour on-call services by deans as well as by counseling and residential life staff should an issue emerge that requires consultation with and support for a student.”
- “Of particular concern to our staff is the management of alcohol intoxication, a problem across all college campuses. In response to this concern, we have developed an extensive plan to assist mildly intoxicated students using the support of friends and residential life staff. As occurs presently, moderately or severely intoxicated students will be referred to Porter Hospital for medical assessment immediately. Ideally, no student should drink to excess. Please be aware that in cases of destructive drinking we will respond quickly and decisively with medical referrals, parental consultations, and disciplinary action. A pattern of destructive drinking will lead to student dismissal from the College.”