Students criticize health services

Students said Student Health Services’ sexual and reproductive health coverage, including testing for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, contraceptive services and educational programs, are not meeting their needs.

Student Health officials said they are constrained by the limited funds the program receives from the University and are doing everything possible to make STD testing readily available to students.

“We spend a lot of time with (STD-infected) patients,” said Susan Haney, outreach coordinator for Student Health Services. “Most people have felt comfortable and have been very appreciative of the care we provide.”

Many students, however, said they feel SHS is inaccessible and not responsive to students’ sexual health needs.

“I would definitely not go there (to be treated for) an STD,” freshman Mandy Volper said. “The last time I was there for a shot, they left the door wide open. Some other guy just randomly walked in the room for some reason, and (the nurse) didn’t even wear gloves.”

Concern comes in the wake of recent reports noting an increase in STD cases among undergraduate students.

SHS provides testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea, to GW students.

Students for Accountability hosted a meeting Wednesday night that addressed students’ concerns over a number of brochures from SHS containing outdated information and language that some students called insensitive toward people of different sexual orientations.

The meeting also addressed a recent Student Association resolution drafted by Students For Accountability, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and other student organizations, which states that SHS staff members “often fail to respond sensitively and communicate information effectively with individuals seeking reproductive and sexual health screening.”

Sen. Kimberly Switlick (G-SPHHS) said she was prompted to introduce the resolution after several students told her of encounters with disrespectful or inexperienced personnel.

“I was hearing stories of people who wouldn’t go back there for another screening,” Switlick said. “SHS is overwhelmed, and I think sometimes they don’t think about the sensitivity of this issue.”

Haney said Student Health pointed out that the office hosts a few free walk-in HIV and STD screenings each year from outside clinics.

Last Friday and Saturday, 96 people were tested for HIV in the Marvin Center through free oral tests sponsored by the Whitman Walker Clinic.

The event was held as part of National AIDS Awareness Day Dec. 1.

Emily Selia, a student organizer of the HIV testing, said she was pleased with the turnout and mentioned that free testing is definitely an incentive to encourage students to take responsibility for their sexual health.

“HIV testing is available at Student Health, but I believe it’s quite expensive,” Selia said. “I would like to see regular University-sponsored, free, anonymous testing here at GW.”

SFA Co-chair Joe Venti said the cost of sexual health services should be more affordable for students, possibly including free HIV and STD screenings.

Currently, comprehensive testing at SHS for HIV and STDs costs $42 and $60, respectively.

“Some of the services here are just too expensive,” Venti said. “I think we can certainly find a way to bring down some of the costs.”

Other concerns students have expressed regard the educational STD and HIV material distributed by SHS, some of which dates back to the 1980s.

Haney said that information in the brochures preventing the spread of STDs is still pertinent and that national services print the brochures. SHS then thoroughly reviews all the materials it chooses to dispense.

“Because we’re not doing (the brochures) ourselves, they don’t have everything that we’d like,” Haney said. “But I believe they can still be good sources of information.”

Venti also discussed problems in making sexual and reproductive health materials easily available to all students, including condom distribution on campus.

Materials are not openly displayed in the lobby at SHS but must be requested at the front desk, he said.

“I went in there the other day to ask for some brochures about STDs, and everyone was looking at me,” Venti said. “There’s really no confidentiality involved.”

SHS already participates in many free condom distribution programs on campus, said Sara Holmes, SHS assistant outreach coordinator. She added that comfort level, not affordability, is the issue.

“I’m usually the one standing there next to the bowl of condoms in the Marvin Center,” Holmes said. “Some students will just come by and take them, but most feel really uncomfortable about it. It’s not the price that’s the problem.”

Some students want to see SHS extend hours to accommodate students’ needs, as the current schedule is inconvenient to those seeking late-night access to contraceptives and emergency contraception services. SHS is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

One GW sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, said he and his girlfriend were unable to reach SHS before closing time on Saturday to receive an emergency birth control pill after the condom they were using broke while they were having sex.

However, SHS offers the “morning after” pill for $25, much lower than the conventional cost, Haney said.

“Student Health is under a lot of pressure,” Switlick said, “but I think we can try and work something out to deal with this issue.”

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