Parton Health Center to Close at Night

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.”

15 thoughts on “Parton Health Center to Close at Night

  1. well said, ryan.

    i recommend selling those worthless blue lights on eBay instead of closing the health center. honestly, have they ever been used (effectively)?

  2. This post sounds like it comes from an entitled bunch of whiners…Let me get this straight: the College should keep open a health center 24/7 so as to allow students who decide to drink to excess to feel safe? My advice to those whining: get a life and begin to exercise some responsibility instead of seeking protection from your own ludicrous and childish behavior. A “mental safety net?” What has become of this generation of Middlebury students to expect this kind of “protection” from themselves.

    No wonder why a college education costs so much. Health centers closed down at most colleges (richer peer institutions and ones 8 miles or more from a hospital) BECAUSE the only ones using them between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. were those who drank to excess, and the colleges that had all-night havens for drunk students were warned they faced greater liability.

    And by the way, for those not familiar with the town of Middlebury (in which I live), Porter hospital is on College property and is 1/2 mile from the Parton Health Center.

  3. The shuttering of the health center during night hours is unsettling.

    For those dealing with serious health issues unrelated to alcohol, not having an immediately accessible facility could be dangerous.

    What about those students that need to speak to a medical professional about pregnancy, birth control, or emergency contraception during the weekend? Having to pay a doctor for a consultation may be prohibitively expensive (and would show up on mom and dad’s insurance bill), and when hours count for emergency contraception, avoiding help altogether is a big mistake.

    What about those students who fall ill in the middle of the night? This has happened to me. I walked down to the health center at 5 A.M. It took me 1.5 minutes to get there, and I was given speedy, exceptional care. I don’t have a car, and walking to the ER alone in the middle of the night would have been impossible in my condition, let alone dangerous.

    For those dealing with alcohol-related issues, the health center is not a “safety net”. It is a valuable resource. No matter how we try to change the culture, some kids are still going to get really drunk and need medical attention. I have never once heard anyone say that it doesn’t matter how drunk he gets, because he can always just go to the health center. Taking a late-night trip to the health center is, if anything, a stigma.

    I have spent the night in the health center due to over-intoxication, too. The nurses are kind and the care is outstanding. But they do have an established program for dealing with students who become so drunk that they have to sleep in Parton. Each stay is treated seriously, and multiple stays are handled especially carefully. A drunken night in the health center is by no means a “get out of jail free” card.

    That said, I believe that, as you wrote, the closing of the health center will lead to more dangerous drinking behavior. I thought the changes in the public safety citation policy were meant to discourage drinking behind closed doors. This action seems to accomplish the opposite. Rather than a Dartmouth-style Good Samaritan, open-door policy with intoxicated students (focusing on getting students well, not punishing them for breaking the rules), this development will prevent students from seeking medical help. I hope the administration reconsiders this cost-cutting measure. How important is the bottom line when the safety of students is at stake?

  4. If you need emergency contraception and are over 18 (as I assume the vast majority of Midd students are), Plan B is available OTC at the pharmacies in town.

  5. Working to beat back the wave of sarcastic remarks in my mind right now… I agree with MiddAlum — the tone of this post sounds astoundingly whiny and entitled. I don’t blame the writer, though. We’re all complicit in creating a system that assures students there will be no consequences for reckless behavior. Fortunately, most students are smart enough to know this is not true in real life.

    Realist noted that there is a “stigma” to a late-night drunk trip to the health center. Heaven forbid!

  6. How is it that only Middlebury and Bates among all the NESCAC schools have 24/7 centers? For Bates, it is easier to understand: it is located in a not-too-safe urban area (Lewiston) and it is very hard, and unsafe, to imagine students getting to a hospital if they had to. Somehow the 15,000-18,000 other students in NESCAC schools have dealt with, learned to deal with, or altered their behavior enough to address all the challenges of having a health center that closes at 9 p.m. would create, noted in the above posts.

    Public Saftety could certainly assist students in an emergency, and I would bet that will be standard operating procedure in the new policy, as Public Safety already does this for students needing to go to Porter.

    What seems to be missing here is any semblance of students understanding THEY have responsibility for their choices and behavior. If serious medical situations arise, Porter is 1/2 mile away. Too many seem too interested in protecting students from their own unacceptable behavior — students who, by the age of 18, should not be looking for protection just because “kids will drink anyway.” Learning to grow up, which is part of one’s education, seems to be weighing the consequences of one’s actions. Middlebury College is failing it students and parents if it enables students to continue acting in a way out of fear of “stigmatizing” a student for not enabling then when they are drunk.

    Once again: grow up. Hold eachother accountable, and stop asking those who act responsibly to subsidize the ones who do not.

  7. “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.”

    What is there not to understand here? It’s not like they’re leaving all the drunks high and dry (or.. umm.. uncared for). They’ve established a plan that residential life be helpful to this end. I think it’s absurd that the primary argument for keeping it open seems to be severe intoxication and the ability to sleep in the health center. Let me get this straight: You have no problem puking on the nurse at Parton, but residential life or a friend helping you get through the night is too much to ask? What kind of friends are these?

    While I think the weekend hours could be tweaked to be a little earlier, the hospital’s location is prime to the campus. Instead of bitching about it, why don’t you use your concerns to work with the hospital to develop a better fee schedule in consideration for what has the potential to be a lucrative cash cow for them. Call it the Midd students/drunken idiots rate.

    As for cuts to the college: Midd is not alone in making cuts, not by a long shot. The answer to prospective families should focus more on the transparency of the process far more so than their peers. Think about it. At least Midd had the 24 hour service to cut back on. What about the other NESCAC schools that had already slashed that from their budgets years ago; what did they cut instead?

  8. It occurs to me that, although the local hospital offers very friendly and convenient services, the type of naive freshman girl that might be a likely victim of sexual assault may not realize this. In fact, She might not feel comfortable going to an ER, which can be a scary experience under any circumstances. However remiss her decision is, the fact remains that She might fail to get the necessary medical (and thus legal) attention. There is something comforting and approachable about student health.

  9. All i want to know is if this means that they will reopen Atwater for the year now that they have more money.

  10. According to previous posts on MiddBlog, Atwater will be open for continental breakfast, Language Table lunches, and special events (dinners after a lecture, etc.).

    Anonymous: like all other colleges and universities, I am afraid the savings from the Health Center’s reduced hours, and other things to date, are not the end of program changes and therefore are not freeing up $$$ for things already cut back. Have you been reading what is happening at the country’s wealthiest university — Harvard? No hot breakfasts and apparentlly no junior seminars in the economics dept, which is the core of the undergraduate majors at Harvard. Plus 275 layoffs with more to come, a stop to the Alston campus, etc.

    I suspect there will be more cuts and so finding more money for Atwater (presuming you mean opening it as it was) is a long way off.

  11. Yes, an update to students from Director of Dining Services said Atwater’s schedule has been sped up. So this fall, Atwater will be doing continental breakfast, language tables, and special events. Ross will get a quick makeover, instead of a semester long redo and Proctor is in full service. FIC will be closing.

    MiddBlog is working on a Dining Guide for freshmen: Take a look and give some feedback so that we can get it out to first years soon.

  12. In response to the possible naive freshman girl likely to be the victim of sexual assault, all I can say is: LIKELY? Very disconcerting to think assault is EVER likely at Midd. But even in the off chance that this occurs with any kind of infrequency, I would assume that part of the extensive plans as it pertains to intoxication would also apply here. RA’s and other staff should be building open door relationships — otherwise, what’s their point?

  13. Residential Staff Discuss New Alcohol Policies « MiddBlog

  14. How to avoid H1N1 « MiddBlog

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