Campus, CSU, News

Advisory Committee, Jane Close Conoley back health fee increase

After running at a budget deficit of 3 percent in 2016, Cal State Long Beach’s Student Health Services has raised its fee from $45 to $75 per semester and will be implementing the change this fall. The fee has not increased in 12 years, despite the rising costs of healthcare.

The Health Facility fee will also be raised from $3 to $5 per semester in an effort to keep up with costs of maintaining the Health Center and its essential services while adding more mental health services. After this year, Health Services fees will also be adjusted every three years to keep up with inflation.
Director of SHS Mary Ann Takemoto said officials were supplementing the deficit using temporary government grants.

The Health Services Fee Increase Proposal webpage says students should “compare [the fee increase] to [their] tax dollars going to support local schools or fire departments. Even if [some students] do not access these services personally, they are essential to maintaining the health and safety of the community.”

Takemoto, along with other health services officials, first proposed the fee increase to the Student Fee Advisory Committee, who then recommended it to President Jane Close Conoley in March 2016. The proposal was initially vetoed by CSULB’s Associated Student, Inc. in April 2016 because they felt they needed more information as to where the new money would be going and why students should be the ones to foot the cost.

The new revenue will go toward hiring more mental health professionals, a part-time registered dietician to assist students with issues such as food allergies, pre-diabetes and eating-disorders, reducing some lab fees such as the metabolic panel blood test and upgrading buildings and patient rooms. According to Takemoto, exam rooms have not been updated since the Student Health building opened in 1976.

The average California State University health services fee has risen steadily over the years, according to a PowerPoint presentation posted on the Health Services page.

CSULB currently has the lowest health services fee out of all 23 CSU campuses.

According to CSULB’s CSU tuition and fee rates data for 2016 to 2017, the average CSU health fee is $259; the average health facility fee is $20.

The CSULB Student Health Center offers primary care, Well Woman examinations, sports medicine, basic lab tests, educational programs, counseling, x-rays and a pharmacy, among other services – all free or low-cost.

“I believe we have a pretty comprehensive set of services,” says Takemoto.

Ninety-five percent of the Student Health Services’ operating budget was used to pay staff salaries in 2014 to 2015, according to a Student Health Center Quick Facts Sheet. Without a fee increase, Takemoto said, hourly staff positions would need to be cut, wait times for appointments would increase and referrals to outside facilities would increase.

“We hire some part-time nurses, medical assistants and nurse practitioners who assist us during peak times,” she said. “They also help staff our triage [walk-in clinic] area. Without these positions, there would be longer wait times for students to get an appointment, or we may not be able to offer our triage same-day service.”

From 2014 to 2015, more than 32,500 students visited the center, according to a letter posted on the Student Affairs webpage by Takemoto at the time of the increase proposal.

“Every year, thousands of students receive health services on campus and highly-qualified physicians, nurses, health educators and pharmacists are available at our health center to treat a wide range of illnesses and offer health and wellness-focused educational opportunities,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Carmen Taylor in a campuswide email she sent on Feb. 8 announcing the increase.

The Student Excellence Fee covers some health-related educational programs, Takemoto said, but it is “not possible to fund staff [with the Student Excellence fee alone] since [staff] funds have to be applied for on an annual basis.”

Since the fee’s initial proposal, an increasing need for additional mental health services has been emphasized.

“Compared to the recommended counselor-to-student ratios, we are currently understaffed when it comes to the number of psychologists we have on campus, which results in longer wait times to be seen and a need to refer more students out to community resources at peak times of the year,” Takemoto said.

She pointed to a recent article by STAT news which she says is “consistent” with CSULB trends in mental health service demand. The article notes that more students have been seeking counseling at college campuses across the nation, although the exact reason is still unknown.

Students in crises sometimes are asked to wait weeks for their first appointment and colleges have been searching for ways to provide more resources.

“Students are dealing with increased levels of stress and mental health issues that impact their ability to be successful,” Takemoto said in the letter she posted online. “Our current system cannot meet student demand, and part of this fee increase will go specifically toward counseling and mental health services.”

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