LCC is proposing to close the only community college health clinic in Oregon
This spring, Lane Community College President Stephanie Bulger sent an email to employees with an announcement that caught many by surprise: The college was proposing to close its 50-year-old student health clinic.
Nearly 100 students and staff arrived at the May board meeting to express disapproval of the plan. The proposal was tabled. Now, a quickly convened task force is charged with offering recommendations to the Board of Education which will decide the clinic’s fate.
This is the only community college student health clinic in Oregon. It has triage space, a crash cart for emergency care and four medical exam rooms where a variety of injuries and ailments are treated.
"People come here for acute and minor illnesses: a bladder infection, a sore throat, a rash, a sprained ankle," said Laura Greene, a nurse practitioner who's been the director of the clinic for nearly 10 years. "Those things feel particularly important because they really get in the way with people’s ability to go to class or go back to class."
Greene noted that while there’s a wide range of ages at Lane Community College, "many (students) are younger, don’t know how to access health care, and many of them don’t have much money, at all.”
LCC “credit students” who take classes on campus are eligible to use the health clinic. They pay a $45 fee per term. Office visits are free and services are low cost.
The clinic closure proposal comes at a particularly precarious time: post-pandemic. According to the college, over a third of Lane’s 6,000 main campus students remain on-line.
"(The clinic) was set up to be self-sustaining off of a fee charged to students taking in person classes," said Brett Rowlett, Director of External Affairs at Lane Community College. "So, as we have more and more students transitioning to online classes, fewer students are paying the in-person fee.”
The health clinic’s fiscal year budget is just over $940,000 and Rowlett said the estimated deficit this year is $264,000. That is paid out of the general fund.
Rowlett said the college knows campus health services help with retention.
“The last thing we want is our students to run into medical issues that pull them out. But, it also has to be fiscally sustainable,” he said. “The college is not in a position right now to continue to have parts of the budget that are losing revenue. Enrollment is down. We can only raise tuition so much."
Options are being reviewed which, Rowlett said, could include a blended model of periodic public health presence on campus as well as 24/7 telehealth options.
Clinic Director Greene countered that the health clinic already offers telehealth. However, there are limits since the clinic is only open when the college is.
Greene said clinic staff are always exploring additional ways to be more affordable and accessible. The "Self-Care Station" is one example.
“We have a lot of things here that students can help themselves to for free,” Greene said, pointing to rows of glass jars. “Things like cough drops, band aids, tampons, condoms and ibuprofen.”
The clinic also offers emergency contraception without barriers. “Recently we decided to make Plan B free and without an appointment,” she said.
This clinic has the necessary freezers to store and provide a variety of immunizations. During the pandemic, the LCC health clinic administered about 4,500 COVID-19 vaccine doses to both students and the community at large. Students entering health professions and early childhood education programs can get their required immunizations here.
Greene said this year, the number one reason students visit the clinic is mental health concerns. “Being co-located with the Mental Health and Wellness Center, we see people for anxiety, depression, insomnia,” she said.
The presence of the on-campus clinic is a reason why some students choose to attend Lane Community College.
Nikhar Ramlakhan’s parents agreed to let him travel 10,000 miles from his home to study computer science at LCC for one reason.
“Lane Community College stood out to myself and my parents specifically because of its health clinic,” said Ramlakhan.
“When I was 17 years old, I was diagnosed with bone cancer," he said. "So, when I eventually picked Lane, it was through an agency from my home country, South Africa. I remember the satisfaction that my parents had, both knowing that there was an on-campus health clinic. Such a piece of mind.”
Ramlakhan is president of LCC Student Government. The proposal to close the clinic by fall 2023 set the 21-year-old student leader into action. He rallied scores of students to appear at the May 3rd board meeting to testify in opposition to the plan.
He now sits on the task force President Bulger convened to review options going forward.
Standing in the clinic lobby, Greene said this academic year, almost 40% of LCC students are totally uninsured.
“Those folks are not going to have a particularly easy time finding healthcare elsewhere,” Greene said. “We feel so honored to be here to serve everybody. And no matter what happens, I know that everybody on this team feels super proud of what we’ve done.”
The task force plans to wrap up its work by June 15 and make recommendations to the president’s office. Then, the future of the student health clinic will be in the hands of the LCC Board of Education.
The license for KLCC is held by Lane Community College.