Millions of students are returning to college campuses in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. This will put to test the ability of college and university health services to adequately care for students.
“To access the landscape of student health services at roughly 1,700 four-year residential campuses, The Washington Post interviewed more than 200 students, parents and health officials and examined thousands of pages of medical records and court documents and 5,500 reviews of student health centers posted on Google.” (TheWashingtonPost)
Healthcare facilities on nationwide college campuses vary widely. Some may contain a single exam room, with one nurse who is not licensed to write prescriptions; another may have a multistory building with more comprehensive services.
Some students interviewed have been very happy with the care they received, while others have said there are major shortcomings.
“Student health centers are akin to the Wild West of medical care. There are no national regulations, and most are not licensed by states. Only about 220 campus medical clinics of the thousands nationwide are accredited by outside health organizations as meeting best practices.” (TheWashingtonPost)
This is a surprising statistic, and a scary one at a time when “many states are experiencing a surge of coronavirus cases, including an increasing number of young people who have tested positive.” Colleges are “ideal places for the novel coronavirus to spread quickly through shared dorm rooms, communal bathrooms and dining halls.”
Here are some of the findings of The Washington Post’s research.
In February 2019, Duke University student Rose Wong was having sharp pains in her abdomen. At the school’s health center, a nurse pressed on her stomach and told her it was gas. The nurse assured her everything was okay and sent her to the campus pharmacy for Gas-X. The next morning, Wong was feeling worse, and went to the emergency room. The doctor found that her kidney had a massive hemorrhage, which was later determined to be coming from a cancerous tumor. She went through surgery and chemotherapy, and was forced to miss an entire school year.
Wong is concerned about returning to school now. She worries that “the university and its medical clinic will be incapable of keeping her and 15,500 other…” students safe from COVID-19.
Research found other misdiagnoses, including a case of appendicitis at Kansas State University, and a case of meningitis at the University of Arkansas.
A student passed away in 2018 after adenovirus went around the campus of the University of Maryland. The student was immunocompromised, and the school health center never informed students about the outbreak. After her death, officials finally disclosed that dozens of students had been sickened by adenovirus.
The student’s father “fears that campus health centers across the country are woefully unprepared to handle the [coronavirus] pandemic. ‘How are they even going to possibly protect those kids?’ he questioned. ‘They could barely function when there is no crisis.’”
According to The Washington Post, “College health officials…are privately discussing insufficient stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE), inadequate access to coronavirus testing on campus and a short supply of rooms to quarantine students.” They are definitely not prepared.
Students have reported that in the past, they have sometimes had to wait days or weeks for an appointment to get be seen at a college health center. Some said they had been provided inadequate care, with some ending up hospitalized (some near-death) because of mistakes made at on-campus clinics.
There were also complaints that the clinics were too costly, forcing some students to forego treatment altogether.
Because of the pandemic, students at some four-year schools will have a harder time getting an appointment for in-person medical care. “Officials plan to lock the doors of campus clinics, refuse drop-in visits and shift many appointments to telemedicine,” to prevent the spread of the virus.
Other campus health centers do not have the resources to manage a significant outbreak.
Research shows that “in 2017, colleges on average spent only about $185 per student for their health centers…Nearly 70 percent of colleges surveyed did not have a full-time psychiatrist, and one-third did not have a full-time physician.”
Here in South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Health is partnering with Clemson University and the College of Charleston, giving students “24/7 access to a health care provider through MUSC Health’s virtual urgent care…MUSC Health will supplement the care already provided by student health services by offering care when it wouldn’t otherwise be available – such as after-hours urgent care – and by offering more mental health services.” (web.musc.edu)
Additional links for South Carolina college students:
https://scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/DHEC_College_and_University_Guidance-7.10.20.pdf (DHEC COVID Guidance for SC Colleges and Universities)
University of South Carolina health services:
Coastal Carolina University health services:
Furman University health services:
SC State University health services:
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Other online resources used in this article: