A final word: Let’s improve our health care services

Dartmouth College Health Services needs to change if it is to adequately meet the health needs of students.

By Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/20/23 4:05 am

This article appears in the 2023 Homecoming Special Issue.

Everyone has heard these stories.A friend was very ill, but Unable to make a reservation At Dick’s house. A classmate had a fairly common accident—possibly a broken bone—and received a ridiculously large bill from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, part of University Health Services. Another friend went to Dick’s house, but his symptoms disappeared and he was sent home without any help. No student should ever hear these stories, let alone be the subject of them. Yet they seem to be a rite of passage on campus.

To address the low availability of appointments at Dick’s House and help alleviate the unaffordability and inaccessibility of other care providers like DHMC, we recommend that Dick’s House increase its hours of operation and promote walk-in appointments on its website. We also emphasize that all students who walk into Dick House should be taken seriously and receive quality care.

It seemed unnecessarily difficult to find an available appointment at Dick’s Place at a feasible time. Since Dick’s House opens at 8:30 am and closes at 4:30 pm from Monday to Friday, and is closed on weekends, it is not easy for students to get help from Dick’s House in a timely manner. Many classes are offered during the short time that Dick’s House is open, and when appointments are initially limited, finding a time that doesn’t conflict with previous obligations can be difficult. Medical needs are time-sensitive, and these times make it difficult for students to seek help within their busy schedules. Opening later and on weekends would be a huge improvement.

Additionally, nowhere on Dick’s House’s website does it state whether they accept appointments, making it appear that students can only go to Dick’s House by making an appointment in advance through the Health Services student portal. Although a member of this editorial board has shown up at Dick House and was able to get an appointment when no appointments were available online, most students would not know this was an option if they needed care before an available appointment time choose. Dick’s House should work on advertising and expanding its walk-in options so students who desperately need to see a medical professional don’t have to wait days for their next appointment.

Low appointment availability and lack of appointment advertising at Dick’s House results in students not receiving timely medical care, which may impact their ability to fulfill their responsibilities and perform at their best. In a fast-paced environment like Dartmouth, many students fall behind academically due to the failings of this institution. Additionally, when students try to make an appointment in advance, they often go several days without an appointment, depending on the reason for their appointment. Even if a student is only physically ill or injured, lack of access to care can place a significant burden on a student’s mental health. Perhaps the lack of appointments is due to insufficient staffing or capacity within the Dick House infrastructure itself. We recommend that Dick’s House conduct an internal review to determine the source of this issue.

Second is the issue of inaccessibility and affordability. Because Dick’s House is rarely open, students often have to seek care elsewhere – for example, if a student becomes unwell or injured after 4:30 p.m. or on the weekends, they will have to seek care from another provider. This has caused problems for students who do not have their own transportation such as cars. Although students can ride to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center or ClearChoice MD Urgent Care in Lebanon through security or the college’s premium transportation service, many students don’t even know these options are available to them. Even when they do, DHMC and ClearChoice often charge unaffordable out-of-pocket fees.

Dartmouth does require students to purchase health insurance through the college’s chosen provider—the Dartmouth Student Group Health Plan—or other equivalent source. While the health insurance requirement makes sense, what doesn’t make sense is why students are sent home with bills that make their insurance look worthless. Specifically, at DHMC, we hear stories of students paying huge medical bills out of pocket. Since DHMC is technically part of University Health Services, we’re not sure why this is happening. Additionally, we heard from DSGHP students that this insurance plan is not enough because it does not provide owners with a physical insurance card, but a PDF, making it difficult to use insurance with other providers. These problems could be solved if DSGHP provided physical insurance cards, and if University Health Services increased Dick’s House hours and promoted walk-in options to save students time away from campus.

The final issue that needs to be addressed concerns those students who are sent home from Dick House without adequate care. We on the editorial board have heard countless stories like this and have even experienced some of them ourselves. One member of the committee went to Dick House during her first year when she was so tired she could barely walk across campus and was told by a male provider that she looked perfectly fine. It was only because the student asked for a blood test, which Dick House didn’t give her until the next morning, that she discovered she had mononucleosis. Another member of the committee walked into Dick’s House with symptoms of an allergic reaction after coming into contact with something she was diagnosed with being allergic to, but she was only asked to take a COVID-19 test and was fired after the test was completed without further treatment. . No student should feel like their medical issues are being ignored, especially if they are already seriously ill or hurt enough that they decide to seek help in the first place.

We believe that until our goals of increasing appointment availability, improving access, and improving the quality of care are achieved, the current state of College Health Services will continue to prevent students from receiving timely care and negatively impact their mental health.

We believe College President Sian Leah Beilock is doing the right thing by making mental health one of the top priorities of her tenure. We are excited about her announcement to create a new Chief Health and Wellness Officer position, which will report directly to her on student health across campus. Of course, without physical health, mental health suffers. We hope Belloc recognizes how physical health and mental health are interconnected and that by expanding and improving Dick House accessibility, appointment availability and quality of care we as a college can get closer to achieving optimal mental health and To reach our highest potential. Dartmouth, it’s time to improve our health care delivery.

The editorial board consists of opinion columnists, opinion editors, executive editors and editor-in-chief.

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