Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Student overload results in unfair cuts

Josh Kellogg/Collegian

Not long after I arrived on campus for my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, I noticed that one of everyone’s primary complaints about the University was University Health Services.

What stood out for disgruntled students the most was the waiting times. It’s not uncommon to hear of students spending hours in the UHS lobby waiting to be seen, a miserable experience for the sick or injured. However, there was no viable alternative: the only other option was to spend a few hours waiting in the emergency room of Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.

Now, it’s easy to sympathize with the difficulties UHS has in serving the student population. As Executive Director of UHS Bernette Daly wrote in her Dec. 1 letter to the editor of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, “the main facility, which is about 50 years old, was built to serve a smaller university population.” UMass has grown rapidly since then, particularly over the past five to 10 years. UHS as it is now is simply not fit to serve such a huge population.

So what did the University decide to do to fix this problem? Cut UHS’ hours and services, of course.

The irony is delicious. In need of an expansion to keep pace with the growth of the student body, UMass gave us a reduction in essential services. The University that purports itself to be so dedicated to serving its students and creating a better campus is instead cutting off the benefits its students really need.

The bizarre justification for the cuts is that they will potentially fund a new UHS building at some point in the future. The key word, unfortunately, is “potentially” – the University has stopped short of promising a new building, instead offering only vague, patronizing promises of long-term rewards to our short-term discomfort. The reason they won’t promise a new building is because these cuts can’t actually fund one.

In the same letter, Daly estimated the savings from the service cuts would save UHS about $1 million. Subtract from that UHS’ $500,000 operating deficit last year, and you have a whopping $500,000 towards constructing this wonderful new UHS facility … conservatively estimated to cost about $35 million.

In some ways, UHS’ hands are tied when it comes to raising funds. UHS is what is called an “auxiliary university service,” meaning that while it is a part of the University, it exists entirely on funds it generates itself. In other words, traditional tuition and fees don’t go towards UHS; the money paid to UHS for its services, particularly which are paid by health insurance plans, is what funds it.

UHS, though, can do better than functioning as the healthcare equivalent to an ascetic in order to save up for its own future. At a time when students at the University need more services than ever, UHS needs to start providing these services now, not “potentially” 10 years from now.

The problems at UHS are part of a larger problem at UMass: the inability of the University to keep up with the rapid growth of its student body. The University has eagerly leapt at every chance to increase the number of students over the past decade, and has stated it intends to continue this increase over the next 10 years as well.

However, it is becoming increasingly evident that the University is unable to manage this rapid increase. The problems in Residential Life are another example of this issue: students are being crammed into lounges and basements, singles are now doubles, and doubles are now triples. The University was so eager to expand its student body that it didn’t realize it had no place to put them all.

The upcoming changes to Dining Services will be next. Dining Services recently announced a $69 million project to renovate its eateries on campus, starting next January with Hampshire Dining Commons in Southwest. Hampshire will be closed while it undergoes the renovations. It is absolutely ludicrous to think the student body will have adequate access to meals during this time. Berkshire is already a madhouse at dinnertime; it is unfathomable to think what it will look like if Hampshire is closed, and the 5,000-plus students living in Southwest are left with only one DC.

The University’s great mistake has been its failure to properly engage and involve the student body. If the University is having trouble meeting the needs of its students, who better to ask for help than the students themselves?

Yesterday, as students protested outside UHS against the cuts to services, a question on everyone’s minds is why students weren’t consulted in the first place. Any undergrad could have told the University that UHS needs more staff, not fewer. Instead, we are forced to march in order to make student voices heard.

The way the University handles the growth of the student body is one of the defining issues of this period in the University’s history. As the service cuts to UHS show, the University is not handling the growth well.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • M

    MarkAug 9, 2012 at 4:34 am

    Sue, very sorry to hear about your experiences, but it does not surprise me one bit. UHS is very poorly staffed, with the exception of their mental health services unit, so I am not surprised that this where they are pushing people.

  • B

    BudFeb 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    How are other large public universities handling medical services these days? How long are the wait times there?

    Still, maybe the answer is to raise fees dedicated to student medical services.

    Certainly the state government, already hard pressed to fund many programs, has little appetite for increased spending for UMass. When legislators are treated to regular nightly news reports of on-campus disturbances and mass arrests, the case for spending more taxpayer dollars on student services is harder to make. No?

  • S

    sueFeb 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I don’t think uhs will improve until a major law suit is filed for gross neglegence. I was brought to uhs on several occassions after passing out during sports practices & couldn’t breathe. I waited hours in the waiting room to only be seen by a nurse who did nothing more than listen to my heart. After several trips there I was told I was going to be admitted to mental health services for treatment since I was “faking”. Yes, they actually told me I was faking passing out during physical exhersion. So the next time it happened my team mates brought me to cooley where I was diagnosed with severe uncontrollable asthma! I was put on a nebulizer, 3 different inhalers, singulair, and a strong long course of prednisone. Surprise surprise, I never passed out again! My dr at cooley told me I’m lucky I didn’t die in their care, because an asthma attack which results in unconsciousness is often life threatening or can result in permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen. Uhs could have been looking at a serious law suit. When I returned to tell them my results from cooley, the nurse acted like she still didn’t believe me and said she felt all those meds were unnecessary and she would be adding her comments to my chart. Seriously??? I think besides uhs needing to be updated, they need a complete staff turn over. They should be ashamed of themselves!

  • J

    JanakFeb 9, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    This news is shocking. I also came to understand that they closing Pharmacy.
    The job cuts will severely affect the Health services. It seems decision to close Pharmacy and Job cut is taken by one or two dictators who has no knowledge of health services and the way it function. I am sure none of the survivors or executive directors were taken into confidence before taking this decision.
    One of the reason, why parent put their children to UMASS due to good health services which will now in jeopardy.
    Before it is too late
    I request Gov.Patrick, all State senators and State Rep to step into this issue to save UMASS and UHS

  • E

    EthanFeb 9, 2012 at 11:02 am

    This article is right on but could do more to suggest solutions. The first, only, and final time I used UHS I had to wait 5 hours to be seen. I’ll take my chances elsewhere next time.

  • B

    BrianFeb 9, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Students already pay outrageously high fees to go to this “public” university. To ask them for even more – especially in the form of cuts to life-saving services – is absurd and irresponsible. If you really want to get a new building, find the money somewhere else. And if you can’t find the money, DON’T BUILD ONE. I’m sure the students would vastly prefer the status quo and the current building if they had to choose between that and reduced services for decades. Don’t believe me? Just ask them.

  • B

    BrianFeb 9, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Why does UMass need a new hospital at all? Well, to provide better health care to students, presumably. I mean, that’s the only reason to get a new building. So how does it make any sense to fund that by cutting back hours and providing WORSE health care to students? “Sorry guys, you can’t get any emergency care on the weekends, because we’re saving up money for a new health center to provide you better care. And when I say ‘you’, I mean your great-grandkids, because at the current rate we’ll have the money for the new building in about 70 years. And while we’re raising that capital, the ones who will suffer most are those of you who have major accidents, chronic illness or life-threatening conditions.”

  • C

    Cake, Not Irony is DeliciousFeb 9, 2012 at 1:56 am

    First off, is UMass cutting hours back due to a building being small ironic? I don’t think so. What is ironic is that students claim to be activists, but don’t put any action towards helping the university. Either way, it is unfortunate but UMass needs a bigger hospital, and capital raising is long and difficult. Money doesn’t grow on trees.