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Humboldt State faces healthcare shortage

One part-time psychiatrist working six hours a week.

Students at HSU are facing a healthcare shortage. Brian Mistler has been the director of the Student Health and Wellness Services for two years.

“I spent the first week on the job really understanding it,” Mistler said. “Students have been telling me weekly how the wait times are increasing and how we need more staff.”

There is one part-time psychiatrist working six hours a week on HSU’s campus.

“Students have trouble getting their medication,” Mistler said. “They have to wait two or three months to see the psychiatrist. Right now, it’s March and he’s booked for the rest of the year.”

Mistler says local hospitals and open door clinics are backed up, and they do not have extra capacity.

“When we send a student off campus often times that means the student just doesn’t get care and then they are forced to leave school,” Mistler said.

There is no Kaiser facility within five hours of Humboldt County.

“We’re isolated,” Mistler said. “Other universities solve this is by sending students off campus to a local hospital.”

Delays in regular facilities maintenance are affecting the current state of the health center. Mistler said the temperature inside certain areas of the facility overheat.

“The lab where we do our blood tests overheats, because the heating doesn’t flow right in the building,” Mistler said. “The temperature gets too hot and we have samples that have to be stored at a specific temperature in order to test.”

Mistler said the student health center building is 20 percent over capacity.

“There is not enough room to hold the staff,” Mistler said.

There are multiple solutions to the healthcare shortage being discussed. One option is telepsychiatry. Telepsychiatry is a video conference with an outsourced psychiatrist in a different location.

“Students would come in the health center, sit in front of a large screen and have a conversation with a psychiatrist who is somewhere else in California,” Mistler said.
“The psychiatrist will work with our team on campus. The student will be able to walk down to the pharmacy and pick up their prescription.”

Health Education and Clinic Support lead Mira Friedman supervises the clinical peer health educators on campus. The peer-to-peer service helps with the clinic’s wait times.

“It allows our medical providers to see more students with complex issues,” Friedman said.

The clinical peer educators are not physicians. They are paired up with a medical provider if they have medical questions. Each peer educator is paid minimum wage.

Clinical peer educators work a minimum of 10 hours and a maximum of 20 hours a week. Friedman holds weekly staff meetings as well as an individual weekly check-in with the clinic’s peer educators.

Kelsey Meusburger, a clinical peer educator since August of 2017, says she feels empowered helping students.

“I only talk to students who are not showing signs of symptoms,” Meusburger said. “When they show signs of symptoms I refer them to the Gold Clinic.”

The Gold Clinic is reserved for more urgent matters.

The state of the student health center building was designed 60 years ago and has not been updated. The building needs to have repairs made in order to function.

“The front of the building where the roof is rotting,” Mistler said. “We had to replace a beam, [and] that’s why there is construction outside.”

There are two separate fees that go toward health services. One fee is for the physicians, the second is for the health center facilities. Both fees are being proposed to increase in order to improve the current healthcare conditions.

“It would cost about $66 per student per semester to repair. For another $10, a brand new health center could be built,” Mistler said. “It seems like a much better idea than spending a lot of money fixing the current health center.”

The Student Fee Advisory Committee is helping to decide the best way to adjust the health fees and increased funding.

“We can’t provide better service in the current space, [because] we’ve outgrown it,” Mistler said. “Part of the reason we’ve outgrown it is because health services aren’t just the services we provide. Other things that are tied to health is physical, mental and other basic needs.”

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