I’m sick of the University not prioritizing our healthcare

By Aidan Byrne

(Collegian file photo)

If you’re a germaphobe like me, you know that college is a cesspool of disease. Every doorknob, elevator button, table and faucet on campus is covered in bacteria and viruses waiting to attack your immune system. Why do you think every lecture is full of sneezing, coughing and sniffling? Catching a cold in Amherst is almost guaranteed. Quality medical care at University Health Services should be too.

Anybody who has made the long trek to Central Residential Area knows far too well that UHS at the University of Massachusetts has many issues that need to be addressed. Between absurdly long wait times, confusing billing and pharmacy procedures, insufficient treatment and inconvenient hours of operation, the infirmary leaves a lot to be desired. Keeping students healthy should be a top priority of the University administration. So why are the services that UHS provides still so inadequate?

It’s simple economics. UHS is the only viable choice available for most UMass undergrads who need medical care. Besides the urgent care in downtown Amherst, the only other option a student has is seeking care at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which is roughly 20 minutes away by car. But many students don’t own cars, or have access to them on campus. Since UHS is the only real option most students have for healthcare, it’s no surprise the waiting room is consistently flooded with patients. At a University with over 21,000 students, that imbalance in supply and demand is always going to lead to long wait times.

To be fair, these long lines can’t directly be blamed on the staff of UHS. With the size of the facility and their limited staff, treating the excessive number of patients that come through every day was never going to be easy. But this problem could be solved by expanding UHS’s business hours. If they were open for a longer period of time each day, the flow of student traffic could be spread out more and we wouldn’t see the same wait periods and lines. With more funding from the University, the infirmary could hire more staff and make longer hours a real possibility. Their current hours are downright irresponsible. Students don’t stop needing medical attention after 8 p.m. on weekdays or 5 p.m. on the weekends.

I know firsthand that not having access to medical attention at night can potentially lead to very dangerous situations. Just two weeks ago, I had a bad asthma attack that was brought on by a chest infection around 8:30 on a Thursday night. My inhaler didn’t work, UHS was closed for the night and I had no access to other asthma medications. After calling the Health Services help line and being left on hold for 30 minutes, I was told that my only option for treatment would be to drive to the hospital in Northampton. When I told the operator that I didn’t have access to a car, they suggested I take the bus, which would have taken over an hour, or call an Uber. Whether you use the app or not, it’s unacceptable that a student’s only option for treatment of a potentially life-threatening condition would be to Uber to a hospital.

UMass needs to take a good hard look at our current health services program and make some serious changes. It’s absolutely essential that the infirmary be open much later than 8 p.m., and optimally it should be open 24/7. At the very least, the University should take a page out of UConn’s playbook and have a registered nurse or two on-site during the times in which the infirmary is closed. That way, students won’t be left hung out to dry in a medical emergency, and we could alleviate some of the daily congestion that UHS faces.

These changes wouldn’t be cheap. But why shouldn’t some of the $50 million being earmarked for the remodel of an already satisfactory Student Union building be channeled to the infirmary? Improving University Health Services and offering students better medical care is more important than fixing up the Student Union. Students deserve better from UHS, and it’s time for UMass to do something about it.

Aidan Byrne is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]