April 25, 2014

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Students host mock ground breaking

Shaina Mishkin/Collegian

In a mock groundbreaking ceremony yesterday, University of Massachusetts faculty and students used a garden spade spray-painted gold to break ground on the “new” University Health Service’s building.

Attendees were protesting a proposal to reduce UHS’s hours as well as eliminate the lab and pharmacy, cuts that were allegedly made to help raise revenue to build a new UHS building.

The protest was followed by a catered forum on UHS in the Cape Cod Lounge, where speakers representing different groups presented their feelings on the changes, experiences and ideas.

The unofficial ceremony, which was attended by approximately 130 people, started on the steps of the Student Union. Students, graduate students, representatives from unions and representatives from UHS gathered at 3 p.m. to deliver speeches, chant and collect signatures for pre-written letters to the Alumni Association pledging not to donate if the changes are passed.

“We are not going to be giving any money as alumni because we are giving money now,” said graduate student Jocelyn Silverlight, vice president of the Graduate Employee Organization.

While standing outside, organizers distributed blue nurses’ masks with the phrase “I can’t afford to get sick” handwritten on them, to protesters.

“Hopefully, the masks just get across the message that we now can’t even access regular services at UHS without being forced to pay money we can’t afford [to pay] on top of the price of insurance here,” said graduate student Kate Losey, who joked about considering making a full body suit to further illustrate the point.

Holding picket signs and chanting cheers such as “No ifs, no buts, no health care cuts,” the group marched from the Student Union to North Pleasant Street through Hagis Mall and then to Memorial Hall, where the Alumni Association is housed on campus.

The group then gathered around at Memorial Hall’s front door cheering, before sending in two representatives to talk to the Alumni Association and deliver a box of yellow letters signed by students saying “I have already made my contributions to the University and that I do not intend to give as an alumnus/alumna.”

The Alumni Association declined to comment at the time of the protest.

According to graduate student and representative of the GEO Jeremy Wolf, the Alumni Association did not know in advance that the protesters would march to their front door.

After the delivery, the group walked back to the Student Union where event organizers from the GEO laughingly used the shovel to “break ground” on the new building, after many of the protesters had already gone inside.

“We are doing a mock groundbreaking for the new building because the new building is kind of an excuse that they are using to get all of us to pay for it and to cut our services and the lab and the pharmacy,” said Graduate Student Senate member Thomas Herndon, who is serving on Chancellor Robert Holub’s committee to update the student health insurance plan.

“We are going to break ground first because we paid for it already,” he added.

After the groundbreaking, a slightly smaller group attended a forum on University Health Services in the Cape Code Lounge at 4 p.m. where the GEO provided pizza, sandwiches, fruit and cookies.

“I am here to learn more about it because I would like to be informed,” said junior  Allison McGrial. “Hopefullly we can do something to change it and go back to the way the health insurance used to be, which seems to be the goal.”

Other students, such as Social Thought & Political Economy major Zoe Talkin, were there to show their support for UHS and protest the changes. Talkin claimed that UHS saved her life once and said if the changes were to happen, she is not sure they would be able to do it again.

“I went there late at night and I was received by nurses who ran me through lab sources. We are looking at the possibility of those kinds of services not being there anymore,” said Talkin.

Talkin added that she thought the changes are a “travesty” and proof that the University “does not care” about students.

At the forum, preselected speakers spoke about the status of the UHS building, their experiences working at UHS and UHS’s ability to handle the number of patients it receives.

Kathy Rhines, administrator of contracting medical services and diagnostic imaging and project development for UHS, came to the protest to show her solidarity.

“The changes don’t make any sense to all of the clinical providers,” said Rhine in an interview. “It doesn’t make sense why you would cut out services that are primary to diagnostic and treatment, and the lab and pharmacy are primary to that. Everyone has that and for us not to have that, I think is a mistake.”

Rhines, however, is “optimistic” about the committee that Holub formed in December, saying that she believes it will be more than an implementation committee.

“I am actually optimistic because I really think the community has a right to basically talk about what kind of services we need and the providers are really saying that they will not be able to practice appropriately. I think the Chancellor has responded to it well,” said Rhine.

GEO president Derek Doughty said that he hopes that the protest will capture the administration’s attention and convince them to resist cutting hours and eliminating services at UHS.

“If we are successful, then there won’t be anything like this planned [again]. If not I have something up my sleeve,” said Doughty.

The event was organized by the Graduate Employee Organization, Graduate Student Senate, Professional Staff Union/Massachusetts Teacher Association, University Staff Association, Public Higher Education Network Of Massachusetts and the Center for Education Policy & Advocacy.

Katie Landeck can be reached at klandeck@student.umass.edu. Steffi Porter and Diana Alsabe contributed to this report.

Comments
13 Responses to “Students host mock ground breaking”
  1. 99% says:

    UMass doesn’t care about students… but they provide the service that saved her life?

    This group is a bunch of hypocrites, some of the best benefits in the country for 20 hours a week. UMass might know what it’s doing, being comprised of professionals with doctorates and what not. Not to mention students know nothing of the long and short term budgeting process. It’s accounting 101!

  2. Jeremy Wolf says:

    99% – It might surprise you to know that we did quite a bit of research before coming out in opposition to the proposed changes to Health Services and the Student Health Insurance Plan. As it turns out, Health Services is already running an annual surplus of about $300,000. The only reason they need to increase this surplus is so that they can build a new building. However, both previous Health Services buildings have been funded by that state, not by student fees. Thus, this new policy represents a change in policy, shifting the cost directly onto the backs of those students who use the Student Health Insurance Plan. This is particularly problematic given that students are the only group in Massachusetts that is not eligible for state subsidized health care, despite their relatively low wages. There is nothing hypocritical about our opposition to these cuts – we fought for our benefits; the University can afford to maintain them, but is choosing not to do so; and for this reason we are fighting to stop them.

  3. Brian says:

    Did you even read the article? They USED TO provide the service that saved her life. But if these changes go ahead, they won’t provide that service any more.
    And do you have any idea what those so-called “best benefits in the country” actually entail? Graduate employee wages are around 14,000 per year. Under the new health plan, students must pay 15% of all health expenses out of pocket, up to a maximum of $5000 per year. You can easily get to that $5000 maximum if you have a car accident, or if you have a condition like diabetes, or if you give birth, or for many other reasons. So if anything serious or life-threatening happens to you, you’ve got to pay 35% of your yearly income to get it fixed! What kind of health insurance is that?
    Oh, and by the way, the university has already admitted that the only reason for these cuts is to save up money to pay for a new building (after they were caught lying about their budget, twice). That’s right: they are going to get the money for their new building from the students with the worst accidents and medical problems.

  4. BR says:

    I was there in spirit, but in fact too sick to come to school. Over the past few months I’ve had to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for routine health care and providers’ mistakes. I’m reluctant to go back to UHS because I can’t stomach having to tell a well-meaning UHS clinician that I cannot afford to take their advice to see a specialist. It’s a shameful situation.

    I’ve won some pretty fancy awards while at UMass. That contribution to the school’s stats will be my only contribution to the school. In fact, I’ve been trying to talk promising applicants — potential academic superstars — out of coming here. You can mess with your bread-and-butter workforce only so much, UMass.

  5. Julia says:

    I fully support this campaign- if these cuts go through as planned I will be afraid to get sick or injure myself. I am frankly outraged that something as necessary and crucial as healthcare is in danger of facing these proposed changes and that students like myself will be asked to pay for something that we have had no say in.

  6. Anna Waltman says:

    These changes also cause women and students with chronic health problems to primarily shoulder these costs. With the new changes, basic annual OB/GYN care, which the university used to provide for free, now costs a significant amount of money. The cost goes up again if you require diagnostics (which most of us do, for cancer and STD screening purposes– pap smears and such). I have chronic health concerns that require a specialist’s care, but under the new insurance policies, I can’t afford to visit my gastroenterologist or my neurologist. I’ve been consulting with them via email to avoid appointment costs (thankfully they’re understanding), but I know if I have any serious flare-ups or changes in symptoms they’ll want me to come in to the office for tests and such…and I won’t be able to pay for it. I can’t teach UMass students to write or do my own research effectively if I’m doubled over in pain and unable to see my doctor to find out why/what can be done to fix it.

    The average UMass graduate student with a 20-hour appointment earns roughly $14,500 a year. Take away $2,000 for required university fees, and you’re at $12,500. Take away $5,000 if the person gets into a car accident. $7,500 in annual income is simply not enough to live on in Massachusetts, especially since students aren’t eligible for food stamps or other safety-net benefits in this state. The federal government also stopped subsidizing graduate student loans this year, so interest-free graduate school loans no longer exist.

    So, Mr. 99%, if you think I have it so good, why don’t you try doing your PhD at UMass and see how “cushy” the average graduate student’s life actually is before you start bashing us for working toward better health care.

    (I also have to point out a paradox in your comment: you say that graduate students know nothing about accounting or economics, yet you say we should trust the “professionals with PhDs” who run the school. Has it ever occurred to you that graduate school is how one becomes a professional with a PhD?)

  7. Josefa says:

    As a GEO member I recognize that the support and services I receive are thanks to the union’s strength and commitment. Without GEO the University and their “professionals with doctorates” would continue to make decisions that put the bottom line first and the health and well-being of some of their hardest workers last. Accounting 101 doesn’t account for the humans making the university work.

    I think this action was a creative and necessary step to bring attention to the recent and impending policy changes-changes that resulted in my family needing to join MassHealth and further spread limited taxpayer resources where we didn’t used to.

  8. Minuteman says:

    Intelligent, legitimate protest protected by the First Admendment. Way to go (better than that other nonsense @ SW).

  9. 99% says:

    I am choosing to do any degrees elsewhere, UMass is too politically extreme for me. I already have my higher degree, and have a number of years in healthcare work so I might know a thing or two about this(Mostly non-profits too, before you get all huffy-puffy).

    Your problem is that (and I have looked into this heavily) you are attacking the university accounting and planning for long-term expenditures when that’s pretty much concrete. You demand healthcare now, fair, but fail to account that the UHS building is under duress due to overuse. This must be addressed, as buildings that require large amounts of planning, bidding, etc all encounter lags in which planning in advance can ensure the new building is constructed in time, and UMass is not left at any point without a hospital. With the failure of the Massachusetts, US, and global economy to bring in steady revenues one can see why the costs shift temporarily, which sucks but hard to overcome. The revenues are what the state subsidizes the university with, so without those someone must pay in. Perhaps the graduate students with some of the best benefits in the country could kick a bit back?

    Your failure is to not address Chapter 58′s (that’s the law mandating you must have health insurance in the state) archaic stance towards students. It’s not UMass or UHS, which must balance the budget, but rather the failure of your state legislature to enact legislation requiring you to receive the same benefits under QSHIP as one would under commonwealth care, etc. These student health plans are outdated, but the sainted Democrats have yet to address such an issue, so try giving them a call and asking them to bring QSHIP and the various other plans into the 21st century. This would be far more beneficial than yelling at people in UHS, who have no legal leverage over AETNA, or any other provider.

    So in short, yes I read the article, shook my head because I totally agree with the cause but was ashamed you’re firing wildly from the hip and targeting potential allies. GEO, CEPA, etc. did this when I was at UMass several years ago, and I am not surprised to see their right-away-to-rally stance continues despite getting them mainly nowhere. Perhaps a more constructed, researched argument would have gone further. Call you representatives, ask them to update the laws regarding student care and give UMass a slight increase to stay open longer, later. (UHS is also a public-use facility, bet you didn’t know that, they should listen as it effects far more than just a bunch of students.) This would solve your problems much faster, more efficiently, and would preserve relations between GEO and UMass.

  10. Zoë Talkin says:

    I would just like to clarify that I do not believe that UHS personell don’t care about students. On the contrary, I deeply value these staff members’ hard work and their dedication to providing high quality services to the campus community. I’d like to acknowledge that a number of UHS employees have pushed back against these cuts and are in favor of the preservation of UHS hours and services. Rather, it is the decision-making administrators and program-cutting consultants who have failed to take into account the ways in which these changes will harm student life and place a burden upon the community. Yes, I do consider the proposed reconfiguration of UHS to be a “travesty;” by gutting and dismantling the very programs and people that make UHS strong, they are undermining the staff’s ability to provide adequate care and leaving naught but a flimsy façade of service behind. I’m sure that they hope a new facility will make a favorable impression on accreditation and ratings agencies, but how can they sincerely believe that the loss in service and quality of care will go unnoticed?

  11. Zoë Talkin says:

    99% –

    “you are attacking the university accounting and planning for long-term expenditures when that’s pretty much concrete.” – The university has released no blueprints for the building; all cuts are based on speculation rather than actual building plans.

    “Perhaps the graduate students with some of the best benefits in the country could kick a bit back?” – This is simply false. The benefits provided to our grads are not comparable to MassHealth, which has actually caused some students to have to drop out of school in order to be eligible for the care they truly need.

    “This would be far more beneficial than yelling at people in UHS, who have no legal leverage over AETNA, or any other provider.” – Nobody is yelling at UHS personell. We are frustrated by the upper-level administrators who have been unilaterally making health-related decisions without consulting the campus community.

    “GEO, CEPA, etc. did this when I was at UMass several years ago, and I am not surprised to see their right-away-to-rally stance continues despite getting them mainly nowhere. Perhaps a more constructed, researched argument would have gone further.” – Members of GEO, CEPA, and other organizations have been involved with a steering committee that is working to come up with alternatives to these changes. Nobody is blindly casting about; a great deal of research, organizing, and planning has been undertaken by a diverse group of people.

    “Call you representatives, ask them to update the laws regarding student care and give UMass a slight increase to stay open longer, later’” – Our representative, Ellen Story, has been responsive to our concerns, and was not in attendance at the community forum because she was meeting with UMass administrators regarding the issues at hand.

  12. Ryan Quinn says:

    99%-

    I agree with you about your concern that students are not eligible for Commonwealth Care regardless of their income level. That is absolutely part of the problem we are facing, and members of the UMass United for Student Healthcare coalition have worked with MA Jobs with Justice, Health Care for All, Mass-Care and PHENOM to file a complaint with the MA Division of Health Care Finance and Policy and to lobby at the Statehouse on that issue. We will continue to work on the larger project of ensuring equitable health care for students in MA even as we attempt to preserve the services of UHS here on campus.

    The Graduate Employee Organization’s website has a timeline of the various actions, articles, and letters related to the campaign: http://www.geouaw.org/?page_id=1884 . If you peruse it, you will find that the April 8 action was one of many in a campaign that targets decision-makers on campus and in the Statehouse.

  13. mason says:

    Reading the Daily Collegian, the protest group would have seen umass recently committed 69 million on dinning commons; now I am not quite sure but I believe UHS cuts are saving 1 million a year.
    So DC renovations equal 69 years of continued UHS coverage or 690 percent difference in funding. They should have mentioned that; it’s obvious Umass Adminstration can continue to fund the UHS without problem, they just choose not to.

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