Protesters rally outside UHS

By Staff

Sarah Doremus/Collegian

At least 100 people marched to University Health Services on Tuesday protesting the health insurance changes and cuts UHS intends to make at the end of the spring semester.

The changes include the recently instated “co-insurance” plan that requires students to pay 15 percent of the cost of specialty care and services not available at the campus health center, as well as the decisions by UHS to cease operation of its pharmacy, cut back hours of operation and eliminate 21 full-time positions at the close of the spring semester.

“We’re here to stop the university from printing money off of the backs of students,” said Derek Doughty, graduate student and president of the Graduate Employee Organization.

The march was initiated by GEO, who, according to Doughty, has been fighting UHS changes since May 27.

“Every time we take a step forward we get another excuse for why the changes happen. They’ve done nothing but [decrease] benefits and care. They don’t know what they’re doing and we need to get some kind of clarity in terms of when the bleeding will stop.”

The changes were not “easy to make,” said University Spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.

“We certainly understand the concerns people have about service and costs and we certainly respect their right to protest and voice those concerns,” he said. “It’s always difficult when services are cut and layoffs are involved.  There are difficult tradeoffs that need to be made in terms of insurance service and costs.”

UHS Executive Director Bernette Daly could not be reached to comment on the protest or the cuts.

During the protest, UHS nurse William Moye stepped outside to momentarily express his support of the protestors by cheering for them.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of really, really bad changes here in the future. It’s going to be chaos here,” said Moye in an interview on Wednesday. “There’s going to be incredibly long waits, you’re not going to have the pharmacy or the lab.

“Our number one business here is to take care of the student body,” he continued. “It’s a good operating service here and it’s unfortunate that they are essentially destroying it.” He added that that due to the cuts, he has begun looking for employment elsewhere.

The intended cuts will save UMass $1 million, money that UHS officials say may be used to build a new facility in years to come. But at least 100 UMass students who attended Tuesday’s protest feel the money would be better used to keep UHS open at its current hours and continue operating the pharmacy.

“The only reason they needed to change our insurance plan at all is so that they could increase their profit level,” said graduate student and GEO Grievance Coordinator Jeremy Wolf. “Why do we need a new building? This building is great.

“What we need are more doctors, better coverage, lower co-pays and lower fees so more of our students can access health care,” he added. “We shouldn’t be looking to lower services for glass and steel.”

UHS Optician Donna Sims, who has been a doctor at UHS for 16 years, says she supports the protesters 100 percent.

“[The cuts are] not okay. I don’t think that students’ services should be cut. These are services that are utilized hugely, daily.”

The march began after Doughty, UHS Manager Kathy Rhines and Wolf addressed the crowd and explained their reasons for protesting. Along the march, UMass student Kate Losey led the crowd in various chants like “What do we want? Health Care! When do we want it? Now!”

“My roommate had a tumor in her hand and there was so much B.S. trying to get UHS to treat that,” said sophomore Rebecca Binns.  “I’m here for students everywhere who need healthcare.”

Binns was among many students who said students’ needs were not going to be met with a new UHS building, and that what they need is more available medical services.

“The choices that this university is forcing students to make is terrible,” said Losey.  “I have read the internal documents. The proposal was to cut services on the weekends because only eight people use them on the weekend or only 10 people. Those are eight or 10 people that could have been raped, that could have an infection…we have meningitis on this campus.”

The protesters arrived at UHS and occupied the stairs and the area outside the front door, various people stepped up to voice their opinions.

Protesters originally intended to enter the UHS building and go up to the third floor, but the doorway was blocked by two police officers who said protesters were not allowed to enter. Eventually, approximately 10 students were allowed entrance. Among them was, Greenfield Community College student Bryan Newman, who said they went upstairs, but were soon told to go back outside.

After not being able to spend time inside UHS, the protesters decided to “occupy” the Whitmore Administration building where they sat-in for about half an hour, continuing the protest indoors.

Steffi Porter can be reached at [email protected]