By Alia Wilson

If you had the choice, would you return to the Student Health Center for medical care? Last year, 95 percent of UC Santa Cruz students said yes.

Next week, students will once again have the opportunity to answer the annual Patient Satisfaction Survey.

Operating out of the same facility since the university was built in 1968, renovations begin this summer in order to maintain that level of satisfaction. Even though the university has tripled in size over the years, no major work has been done to the health center aside from a few cosmetic upgrades.

This renovation comes as a result of the Spring 2005 Campus Elections, when students voted to increase student registration fees to $27 per quarter. The fees won’t be applied until renovations are complete in Fall 2009.

Because the state of California does not pay for student services, the improvements are based solely on the student fees.

Leslie Elkind, the UCSC Health Center Director and certified family doctor, said that the Health Center originally wanted to ask for a fee somewhere in the $30 range, but that $27 barely passed the referendum. He is hopeful that the new facility will allow his staff to care for students as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“When the staff is spread out in disconnected care areas, away from each other, and away from supplies, it adds a minute or two to each visit, which at the end of the day adds up to enough time to have seen a couple more patients,” said Elkind, who explained that the health center staff is also working toward a more effective customer service plan.

The health center currently sees around 120-140 students a day. Elkind believes that the extra space will solve the accessibility concerns that students have, and perhaps encourage more students to seek counseling and psychiatry services, which are now very cramped and not very private.

Besides receiving seismic retrofitting, the main floor clinical area will be completely redesigned to make it more efficient, with centralized support areas and modern design. A new wing will house the mental health department to allow for space and privacy, and the pharmacy will expand as well.

Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP) will also get an entirely new home. Jane Bogart, the SHOP Coordinator at UCSC, expressed her enthusiasm for the expansion and said that it will vastly improve SHOP’s services for students. In addition to a condom co-op retail store, a stress-free zone for students is in the works.

“We want to create a space where students can relax and [this will] take the stigma away from counseling,” Bogart said.

On the other hand, UCSC’s mobile dental service, Onsite Dental, which visits the campus near the East Field House every Monday, will not be receiving any changes from the proposed expansion.

In addition to the renovations, an online Electronic Medical System, modeled off of the system at Stanford and UCLA, will be implemented in order to enable students to make appointments from their own room and communicate with doctors securely through email. Once implemented, a web-based survey instrument will be created for students to evaluate their health center visits.

Even with the planned expansion and improvements, health care physician Catherine Forest M.D. MPH, believes that the center will still not be big enough to address long-term needs for students. While Forest, a UCSC alumna, is pleased with the move to make the facility more oriented toward patient care, she would still prefer to see a brand new facility and expanded faculty.

“This expansion is the minimum amount being done to keep it working,” Forest said. “It is the same facility as when I went to school here in the seventies. In an ideal world we would expand our staff and the building as the student population grows.”

Some students say that they have felt the effects of what they feel are inadequate health facilities.

Yael Sherman, a third-year at UCSC, told City on a Hill Press (CHP) that she will no longer use the health center because she thinks their services are insufficient. She once went in for an allergic reaction but ended up leaving untreated.

“They told me it looked like I was allergic to something and then sent me away,” Sherman said.

Jenny*, another third-year student, also explained that she had been misdiagnosed more than once at the Student Health Center. She prefers, rather, to see a physician in Sunnyvale.

“I went in [to the student health center] because I had something that I suspected was a cold sore,” Jenny said.

But Jenny had to go through three doctors before she received proper medication for her symptoms. At first, the physicians thought it was impetigo, a contagious skin disease, but she was sent away untreated. The second time they thought she had a skin infection and prescribed a special cream. After a check-up, a physician said that her results indicated that she had a cold sore and that everything she had been prescribed before was ineffective.

“When I get really sick, I try to avoid the health center,” Jenny said. “Very often I end up going home, because the doctors here just tell me to take some Advil and to go home. Back home, they actually talk to me and give me more than just Advil.”

The Student Health Center Medical Director, Dr. Elkind recommends that students should always fill out a Patient Satisfaction Survey after a visit.

“Last year we got back a couple hundred,” Elkind said. “This year we’re shooting for over 300.”

Currently 60 percent of the medical attention students seek is in the urgent care facility, whereas only 40 percent come in by appointment. Dr. Elkind believes that if more students schedule appointments, they will be allotted the time to be seen based on their needs specifically. The Electronic Medical System will also be sure to leave time available for students who wake up sick, to be seen that very day.

According to Dr. Elkind, with funding based on an economy of scale, other UCs are able to do a lot more with greater backing. Berkeley, in particular, is able to provide a much larger facility with more specialties, because students voted to tax themselves a specific health care fee of $188 for the academic year in addition to the registration fee.

The Health Care fee was a result of budget cuts in student services three years ago, explained Claudia Covello, Executive Director of University Health Services, Berkeley.

“Four out of ten UC campuses have this,” Covello said. “Everybody’s scrambling because there is far more demand than resources.”

Dawn Finch, the University Health Services Public Information Specialist at UC Berkeley, told CHP that the university tries to provide as many services for the students as it can. Berkeley doesn’t want students to go home and get treated, Finch said. That would discount the point of trying to keep students healthy and in school.

“Instead of having students poke around for help, we provide what we can for them,” Finch said. “We are coordinated so that you’re not just trying to put the pieces together, because pretty soon you’ll have to do it yourself. And once you get out [of college], you’ll find that people don’t care about you as much.”

Berkeley alumna Teri Hu told CHP in an email that she found health care services at Berkeley extremely sufficient and that her health care at Keiser now is rather lacking in comparison.

“For my needs, they were more than adequate,” Hu said. “Scheduling was never an issue. I got the appointments I needed when I needed them. There were drop-in options as well, which came in handy, and an urgent care clinic, [which was] kind of like an emergency room, but without trauma facilities.”

Hu said that although Santa Cruz does provide health care to its students, the small town factor may be a reason for the lack of proficient health care services available in the area, both on-campus and off.

“Santa Cruz is basically a cute little seaside resort town. You don’t even have a major interstate going through it,” she said. “There are good things about that – the air is clean, beautiful views, and mellow lifestyles – but state-of-the-art medical facilities [isn’t] one of them…that’s one of the downsides of being off the beaten path.”

However, a number of local health care providers, including Sutter, believe that the university health center’s search for excellence has heavily influenced health care in the area.

Larry DeGhetaldi, CEO of Sutter Health’s Santa Cruz Area Health Care Services and a UCSC alumnus, said that the demand for progressive, innovative patient health care from UCSC when it was still developing in the 1970s motivated the city to provide better health care to its residents, and that students should not complain about such unique and convenient services.

“Physicians from UCSC were the catalyst for the health care system in the city,” DeGhetaldi said. “Students need to be broad minded to see that the access problems they are having [within the university] are probably the same as access problems in the community.”

Dr. Elkind says the Student Health Center tries to keep health care for students as cheap as possible, so they can afford the general care that they need and continue with their academic endeavors.

“We do not ever turn away anyone that wants to be seen,” Elkind said. “We are here completely for students’ needs.”