Student health: A private matter? USD studies possibility of contracting out health service

Student health: A private matter? USD studies possibility of contracting out health service by M. Jill Karolevitz A long-standing tradition of on-campus student health care may change if a private provider responds to a proposal that is soon to be drawn up by University of South Dakota officials.

The proposal results from the question of whether or not equal or better health care services can be provided to USD students at a reduced cost, according to Roger Kozak, USD vice president.

Discussions have been held with President James Abbott, �where over time, the same question has been asked about the delivery of a variety of services on campus,� said David Lorenz, dean of students.

With regard to USD Student Health, the decision has been made to proceed with drafting a set of guidelines that will be made available to potential contractors to find out who may be interested in providing student health care for USD, he added.

The possibility of privatizing USD Student Health has met with bad reviews by the service�s staff, who heard the news April 18 from Kozak, Lorenz and Van Moser, director of auxiliary services.

�Morale is low,� said USD Student Health Director Larry Hudson. �We were told that the president was looking at a number of services on campus and if there are better ways of providing those services, and that a request for proposal was being drawn up and is going to be submitted to potential contractors. Based on what they receive, a decision will be made to privatize or not.

�We asked about continued state employment for those who have only a few years remaining until retirement,� he continued. �Three of us need five years or less. To retire at 55, you need 30 years of service. Each year that you don�t have, you�re looking at a reduced percentage of the total retirement benefit package. They said they would look into it.�

The USD Student Health staff was also told they would be guaranteed employment for one year with a health care contractor, �but not necessarily in a student health setting,� Hudson said.

Timing is also a concern.

�We found out April 18,� Hudson said. �If something is done at the beginning of the new fiscal year � July 1 � that may not be adequate time to look at what our options are � including staying with the contractor or looking at other job opportunities.�

No time line has been set, however. Moser will draft the proposal �and I will send it off when I�m given the go-ahead by the president,� he said.

�As soon as we know when the next step will be taken, the Student Health staff will be informed,� Lorenz added. �At that time we�ll know a time frame to tell the current staff if a change is going to be made and when.�

There is also the feeling of �if it�s not broken, don�t fix it,� among the USD Student Health staff.

�We are the only student health service in the state, and one of few in the region, that are nationally accredited through the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, the premiere accrediting organization for any clinic setting,� Hudson said.

A report, issued Dec. 30, 1999 by a USD Student Health task force, gave the service positive marks, he added.

�The president appointed a number of folks to do an exhaustive review of Student Health,� Hudson said. �Basically, we came out smelling like a rose. The students gave us rave

reviews.�

Several recommendations were made, however, including increasing hours, offering a pharmacy service, improving the facility, increasing focus on health education, and provideing increased information about USD Student Health.

�Based on the report, we have ongoing student satisfaction,� Hudson said. �There were very positive comments, some negative, but basically it was a positive report. Our staff is dedicated and committed to providing quality medical care. And there was never any mention of privatization in the recommendations.�

�We have a health service that is generally held in fine regard by our student body,� Lorenz said. �What precipitated this (looking into privatization) wasn�t as if we had something that needed to be fixed. But it�s being reviewed with a variety of other areas on campus from a management standpoint. We�re looking to see if the current way we�re doing this is the best way to do business and if it�s in the best interest of the students. I want what�s best for the students.

�We have met with student leadership and informed them of what�s taking place, and we will continue to consult with them,� he added. �These are their services and it�s important to continue informing them as we know more.�

Despite rumors to the contrary, Kozak is emphatic about the fact that privatization of USD Student Health �is not a done deal,� he said. �No deals have been struck with anyone for anything.�

In fact, this is the third time in recent history � under as many USD presidents�� that the issue of privatizing USD Student Health has been raised, he added.

�If history tells us anything, nothing will happen,� Kozak said. �It may result in no change one way or another.�

Still, the question of privatization is being asked.

�We have to ask the question,� Kozak said. �Is there a better way to do this? I think what management is doing is reasonably prudent and fair.�

Lorenz said he could not make any predictions as to the outcome of potential provider response, but he is ready to continue the course of action that has been laid out.

�I�m at the point where I�m interested in moving on with this process, finding out what the results are and bring this issue to a close,� Lorenz said. �We need to move ahead to see how we�re going to deliver health care to the students and let the current Student Health employees know where they stand.�

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