Campus health center under scrutiny

The Student Health Advisory Board had a list of suggestions the Center for Student Health and Counseling before the two groups ever met. But since the board turned its attention on SHAC, the members’ roles have shifted from passing along student complaints to uncovering what SHAC has not done.

SHAC has been less than hasty in responding to the new committee’s requests and observations, said board Chair David Alston. The most immediate problem area is SHAC’s triage policy, Alston said, citing dental emergencies being put off.

More sensationally, SHAC has dragged its feet to implement a medical information system called wired.MD paid for by student fees. The health center also has an ongoing argument with Facilities over who should pay for signage to alert students to defibrillators around campus.

The problems the advisory board has come across so far may be the only issues, but since they have learned of SHAC’s shortcomings "behind closed doors," Alston said, it’s easy to wonder what other skeletons could be in the medical center’s closet.

"We feel like we’re at the tip of the iceberg," Alston said.

Student government conceptualized the Student Health Advisory Board last summer in response to student complaints about SHAC, and the seven-member committee has been working since fall term. The board is now in process of becoming a permanent university committee.

The group started with plans to add primary eye care, alternative preventative care, and to overhaul the dental program. The board also opened discussion of extending clinic hours during weekdays and on weekends, since tight appointment schedules can quickly translate into emergency cases being delayed.

"We have a large incidence of dental mayhem," Alston said, "mostly due to some triage practices."

Discovering that the wired.MD service was nearly ready but just hadn’t been launched was a turning point for members of the board.

"When we found out that this had been sitting around and nobody was expecting it to be up until next year – this service that students are paying for – at that point it became a larger issue of implementation," Alston said.

SHAC told the board that its employees were simply too busy getting medical records into a database, Alston said, but the board didn’t buy it. "There’s no reason why that couldn’t happen at the same time."

"’When we’re paying for this,’" he told SHAC, "’you cannot be too busy.’"

"I was told ‘If, David, not when,’" Alston said. "I said, ‘You want the word if in your vocabulary, that’s fine. It’s not in mine.’"

Gwyn Ashcom, outreach coordinator for SHAC, has been working on implementing wired.MD for about two years. The system is part of SHAC’s education component. Students will be able to use private viewing terminals in the SHAC lobby to watch informational videos and trawl a number of reputable health resource web sites.

"Everyone’s focus has been on getting medical records up," she said, and the project has been delayed because it wasn’t as urgent.

Meanwhile, SHAC pays $5,000 of student health fee money per term for the service.

She has put in a request to have the system hooked up in the SHAC lobby and is waiting to have the work order filter through PSU’s system. "I’m hoping for next week at the latest. It’ll be available this term, certainly."

Once the web site is up and running in the lobby, Ashcom said, she plans to advertise it.

Though Alston characterizes the dialogue between SHAC and the advisory board as "cumbersome at times," he’s confident that as the conversation continues, SHAC will respond to student concerns more readily. He hopes that a little public observation will go a long way.

"You get the feeling they were just used to doing what ever they wanted."

For now, SHAC management isn’t terribly forthcoming, dragging its feet on the board’s request for a budget breakdown. SHAC’s budget is more than $6 million per year. That information is public, but drawing out the process sends a message of reluctance, justified or otherwise.

Alston hopes the itemized budget will help clear up the disagreement between Facilities and SHAC over who should pay for signs to alert students of a resource they already have: the defibrillators. The defibrillators, which are used to restart a stopped heart in case of heart attack, have been installed around campus but haven’t been marked.

SHAC says Facilities has already been paid to produce signs; Facilities says SHAC’s payment of $40,000 doesn’t cover the signs.

The board sees this as quibbling that needs to end, and soon.

"My issue is to have it posted pretty quickly," Alston said. "If they have to go halfsies, so be it. There should never be a case in which services and overall needs of the student population come second to politics." The board is conferring with Vice Provost of Student Affairs Doug Samuels on unraveling who should pay for signs.

To view wired.MD, visit