Outsourcing hits Health Services

Nick Bohannon/The News

Story by Katlyn Mackie, Staff writer 

The days of getting free health care at Murray State’s Health Services may be coming to an end as the university is seeking alternative options including outsourcing.

University officials updated students and faculty at a Sept. 14 meeting about the request for proposal process involving the future of Health Services, which is currently funded by the university.

Proposed Changes

During the summer, Murray State officials met with prospective vendors to see if there was any interest in coming to campus to provide health services. Vendors ranged from groups that specialize in college health to local operations such as hospitals and urgent care centers.

Don Robertson, vice president for student affairs, said the need for a change in health services comes from “quality of service” as well as “finances” with the strained budget situation.

Robertson said the intent is for the new model to be self-funded with no university money given to those operations.

Considering this, Robertson said there is a good possibility that insurance will be billed or there will be a service fee charged as opposed to the free health care students are currently receiving.

Robertson told the dozens of people in attendance at the meeting that the reason for the proposed changes to Health Services is not due to dissatisfaction with the services currently being offered but rather because of the rising cost of higher education.

“We want to make sure, if the change occurs, that we have the same quality of service and focus on the customer would be there,” Robertson said.

The request for proposal was mailed out on Aug. 23 to fourteen vendors. It is unknown how many sent proposals back to the university by the Sept. 18 deadline. Some areas included in the 40 pages of the RFP are concerns for the current staff and their employment opportunities, providing and expanding laboratory services, funding options, expansion on health awareness and educational programming, experiential learning for students and services provided in conjunction with counseling services.  

Robertson said that University Counseling Services, which has licensed mental health professionals in the Counseling Center, is not part of this potential outsourcing. The Center provides an array of free services to Murray State students including individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, and family therapy, according to its website.

University officials hope to have a decision by Oct. 25, based on what they hear from the vendor presentations. Robertson said they have asked for information such as what the cost will be for students who do not have insurance, what will the charge be for those with insurance, what would happen to the current staff, will they use the existing building or potentially construct a new one and what commission would the companies give to the university for allowing them to be on campus, among others.  

Robertson said the purpose of these vendor presentations is to be transparent with students and faculty.

“We want to provide all the information we can to you,” Robertson said. “Your feedback is very important.”

The service is expected to switch next academic year. The selected vendor would be required to sign a 3 year contract with the option to renew. Robertson said the Board Regents would have to approve any changes and hope to be able to present the changes at the December meeting.

Health Services Now

Kim Paschall, director of Health Services, said the clinic currently operates under five health care professionals. She said the staff has over 40 years of college health experience and is “sensitive to the needs and concerns of college students, faculty and staff.”

Paschall said Health Services offers free and confidential health care for a variety of issues, which often reduces the number of work and classroom absences.

Most of the treatments are for respiratory and stomach illnesses, but they also tend to a significant number of injuries, urinary infections, and lab testing for STI’s, diabetes and pregnancy. There is also a 24-hour on-call telephone triage nurse available through campus police.

Paschall said she often hears Health Services referred to as “a band-aid station” but that is not the case.

“We have been and continue to be a viable unit on this campus, and I sincerely thank my staff for their hard work and dedication to our clients that come in,” Paschall said.

Jennie Rottinghaus, director of development of the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology, said she has utilized Health Services since she was in college, and that she is a frequent customer.

“It’s so convenient to just be able to walk across campus, and in a few minutes, be seen quickly, professionally and not have to take the time to make an appointment with the doctor,” Rottinghaus said.

Robertson said it is important for the service to stay on campus but that the $500,000 currently allocated to Health Services could be put back in the general fund for other uses on campus based on where the greatest need is.

During the 2016 calendar year, health services treated 7,609 students and 1,454 faculty and staff. As of this August, they have treated 4,558 people thus far in 2017.