Changes to CHC should’ve included expanding weekend hours

Earlier this month I found myself in a situation many students fear – or have unfortunately already experienced. I was sitting in the GW Hospital emergency room with nausea, blurry vision and a pounding headache. I had the stomach flu, so to help with my symptoms I took a warm bath, but I stepped out too fast causing me to blackout, collapse and end up in the hospital with an extra ailment. If the Colonial Health Center was open with normal hours on weekends, I could have avoided the collapse with a prompt diagnosis and medication instead of a trip to the emergency room.

Last week, the CHC announced the largest overhaul of student health since the center opened more than three years ago. The changes include requiring student health insurance next academic year, increasing the number of free mental health sessions, moving to an electronic record-keeping system and hiring a dietician to provide nutritional advice. But one notable and vital change was left out.

If the Colonial Health Center was open with normal hours on weekends, I could have avoided the collapse with a prompt diagnosis and medication instead of a trip to the emergency room.

The CHC is open from Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday for only two hours – 9 to 11 a.m. – for emergencies only. But what constitutes an emergency is not defined. Students have long griped about the limited hours in the center and many have advocated to change them. When the CHC is closed, there are very few resources for students. GW Hospital or health clinics around the District are an option, but transportation, wait times and substantial fees restrict students from using them. Waiting until a weekday to get care can lead to worsening of serious illnesses or extended suffering from easily curable ailments. As the CHC turns a new leaf with these changes, they should alter their hours to be open for general visits and emergencies from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, allowing students to consistently have access to health services they can afford on campus.

With the CHC’s current operating hours, illness that strikes over the weekend – specifically after 11 a.m. on a Saturday – will go untreated until the next business day, which can be up to 48 hours later. This leaves undiagnosed diseases untreated unless students travel to a clinic or an emergency room. Students who are required to purchase GW’s student health insurance, like international students, have added difficulty, as the CHC is their only covered option. Next year, if students can’t prove they already have sufficient insurance, they will be required to pay about $2,750 per academic year for CHC insurance. If they need medical assistance and the CHC is closed, they must pay an “out-of-network” fee, which is – on average – higher than their normal provider’s fee on top of the already high price they must shell out for the University’s policy.

CHC has faced heavy criticism over the years for its turbulent leadership turnover as well as accusations of mismanagement and low-quality care. These announced changes are a step in the right direction, but they aren’t enough.

I often get sick on the weekends, when my body shuts down after a week of pushing through stress and sleepless nights. Last semester, I had a high fever, sore throat and felt extremely lethargic on a Saturday night. I assumed the worst and thought I had come down with a case of mononucleosis. But without a way to get tested that didn’t include possibly paying hundreds of dollars in fees at a hospital or waiting for hours at a clinic, I decided to wait until Monday morning to get tested at CHC. By the time I got my tests back and they showed I had strep throat, a week had passed so I no longer needed antibiotics. But if I did have mono, I would have been in a much worse state after waiting a week to be diagnosed. There are four clinic options within walking distance that take most insurance policies, but they are almost all closed on weekends except for two CVS MinuteClinics in Dupont Circle. CVS’ fees for minor illnesses can range from $99 to $129, while CHC charges $30 to $60 for medical visits.

The center must be more accessible in order to properly take care of its students.

Two of our peer schools, Georgetown and Northeastern universities, have health centers that are open on weekdays and for four hours on Saturday like GW. But there are universities around the country, and another peer school, that offer extended weekend hours. University of Rochester is the only peer school that has health services available on the weekend. One of their clinics is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. CHC’s hours should be modeled after that example. Rochester is also unique in that officials there ask for more student feedback on their campus health services. They have an established UR Student Health Advisory Committee that is chaired by students and meets every three to four weeks with their director of student health to discuss how to improve health care services. Students at GW have an opportunity to prioritize expanding CHC hours. When the Student Association and a student health group partnered with administrators to form the Student Health Advisory Council in the fall, they put an overhaul of health insurance at the top of their list of priorities. Going forward, changing the hours of CHC should be their top priority.

Having the CHC open for more than two hours on the weekends would ensure that students don’t have to go 24 hours without access to affordable health services. This is especially important for students and their families who will be paying for student health insurance next year, as it tacks on even more costs for them. With all these changes coming to the CHC, one pressing issue was left out. The center must be more accessible in order to properly take care of its students.

Emily Venezky, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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