By Cassidy Whitaker, Wakens Leonard, & Emily Kochanski
By now, students have already become aware, one way or another, of a major change happening to the Saint Leo campus.
On Feb. 23, Saint Leo officially released an announcement to the campus community that the Health and Wellness Center would be under new management starting in May. Florida Hospital will replace the current Health and Wellness Center in time for the upcoming fall semester.
Members of the administration spent months finalizing the arrangements for the upcoming transition and had prepared to break the news to the medical staff before the decision was made public.
“The University went through planning for several months; it didn’t just happen. But of course, because employees are involved, we wanted to have the arrangements in place before we told them,” said Eric Weekes, vice president of business affairs.
Despite this carefully planned announcement, the information became public before the University officially released it.
“There had been rumors going around,” said Terry Dadez, director of health services. “We actually had HR come in here on Feb. 22 and give us formal notice that we were being released on May 3 from our duties.”
The next day, Feb. 23, an official announcement was sent to the campus community.
Weekes said that there was no malicious intent behind the administration’s actions, and that they had every intention of informing the affected staff within an appropriate amount of time; however, once the information was prematurely disclosed, the University had no choice but to immediately release the announcement.
“As we said in the announcement, we had planned to tell the employees and then make the announcement to students shortly thereafter. I believe what happened is that there is a student who is a worker there and they found out essentially the same time that the employees found out. There was absolutely no intent by the administration to hide this from students,” said Weekes.
Freshman Health and Wellness Center student worker Maggie Sroka became aware of the news before the University sent the announcement to the campus community.
“Another student and I were only spreading the information we had heard from direct sources in the health center because we wanted other students to be aware,” said Sroka. “We live on a campus with under 3,000 students, so information like that is bound to spread fast.”
Sroka said she was upset by the part of the announcement that stated “inaccurate information” had been shared. However, she believed the announcement contained false information, such as the part that stated the nurses were encouraged to seek further employment with Florida Hospital, which she believes to be untrue.
Weekes stated that administration provided information to the nurses about job placement elsewhere, and that Florida Hospital also encouraged the nursing staff to reapply for their positions on the Saint Leo campus or for new positions at one of several Florida Hospitals. Dadez was among those who applied for a job with Florida Hospital.
“I’ve done it. I don’t think it will help or hurt anything. I’ve applied for several and I’m looking at getting one at Florida Hospital,” Dadez said. “I’m not a floor nurse anymore. I’ve done critical care, and ICU, and ER and all kinds of stuff. I want to get into more quality improvement, education, and things like that. That’s what I love to do.”
Another concern about jobs revolves around student workers. It is unclear whether or not student workers will be employed at the new health center run by Florida Hospital.
“I’d doubt it,” said Dadez. “Because [Florida Hospital is] not really working for the University. They’re like an outside contractor/separate entity, but I’m not sure what kind of agreement they have.”
Student workers get skills from working with the nurses that can be used later on in life, or help further their career if they want to work in healthcare.
Sroka has worked at the Health and Wellness Center since Aug. of 2016. The student workers at the wellness center do things such as scan and file health records of withdrawals and graduated students, greet the students who come in and answer their questions, and help students fill out the proper forms to see the nurses or the doctors. They also add different documentation to students’ files, such as sick notes or excuses from class. Additionally, they complete basic tasks for the nurses, such as checking the mail and delivering checks.
“In addition to the tasks listed in my job description, I am also a source of comfort for students. I’ve held hands with students while they have received shots, assured them about test results, and have been a source of aid for those who are sick,” said Sroka. “It is extremely rewarding to know I am comforting someone who is ill and being a friend and ally for my fellow students and peers.”
Other University students shared a similar concern for the upcoming changes among the staff.
“I was really conflicted about this change because I go often to visit the nurses. They’re all people that I consider to be good friends,” said Jahiedy Vinas, senior English major.
Sabrina Kurtz, another senior English major, bonded with many members of the clinic staff during her time at Saint Leo and will be sad to see many of those familiar faces leave.
“I love the nurses. They have always been super nice to me,” Kurtz said. “The doctor has always been so nice.”
“That’s why I’m conflicted,” said Vinas. “These nurses have been here for so long. They know the students and the students feel comfortable with them. If there was a way that they could all keep their jobs, that would be awesome!”
Though breaking the news to the campus community proved to be difficult, the decision to collaborate with Florida Hospital was an easy one. This change is occurring because both parties showed mutual interest in a partnership; Florida Hospital wanted to be more involved and Saint Leo administrators saw this as a chance to provide students with better medical equipment and resources.
“We think that the Florida Hospital will bring a lot more resources to students, much more than Saint Leo could ever afford,” Weekes said. “[It will bring] access to much better equipment than we have here and access to a larger range of medical resources. Different types of doctors, different types of expertise.”
The Florida Hospital team will offer more advanced care than the Saint Leo campus is currently capable of providing.
“For instance, if there is some sort of flu outbreak, Florida Hospital can bring ten nurses and ten doctors to the school or have the students go to the Florida Hospital only seven to ten miles away,” said Weekes. “Right now, we would not be able to do any of that; we don’t have those resources. They do.”
Members of the student community also have their ideas about what they’d like to see Florida Hospital bring to the campus.
“I would like [Florida Hospital] to provide different tests, like bloodwork,” said Vinas. “To provide the kind of care that a hospital does instead of only giving general medical help.”
Kurtz agreed that better, more advance medical testing would be helpful and make the clinic feel more like a real health center versus a campus clinic.
Sroka believes that these changes could be positive, but the issue, to her, is not enough information has been released about what features will be offered to students going forward. And, she would have liked the press release sent out by the University to have provided more information regarding which insurance policies will be covered and which will not, especially for international and out-of-state students who have insurance that may not be covered by Florida Hospital.
Cost seems to be one of the most common concerns for students.
“Saint Leo’s tuition has already risen since last year, so if students have to pay the $1,200 for the school insurance, I’m afraid it might deter some students from the superb education Saint Leo has to offer,” Sroka said.
According to Weekes, the administration foresees no changes to the cost of students’ insurance.
“Currently, students are required to have United Healthcare. Assuming that, unless students have an opt-out because they can show that their parents have a different insurance, then the same United Healthcare will apply, and the cost will be the same; there will be no change in service to students or cost,” Weekes said.
Dadez agrees, but her concern is the personal, familial sense of care that students currently receive will be lost.
“I’m thinking they’re going to be able to accept people’s insurance, but that means they’re going to be more of a business than a student service,” said Dadez. “We don’t want students to […] get charged for the little things that we do like hand sanitizer or bandaids or little things like that, but they’re here to make money.”
In addition to accepting the same insurance, students can also expect to see no changes to the cost of services.
“The health care cost is between the student and United Healthcare. The University is not involved in that. So, I am not aware of any cost increases from United Healthcare, but that would be in the course of normal business and will have nothing to do with the change to Florida Hospital,” said Weekes.
Weekes and his fellow administrators feel the change to a Florida Hospital run clinic is “100 percent for the better,” and foresee no immediate or drastic changes to de Chantal Hall or the care given in the clinic.
According to Dadez, originally, a two-story building was supposed to be built across the street, with the clinic on the bottom and the gym on the top. Florida Hospital gave the University a substantial monetary gift.
“They were going to keep one person here to do all the records, triaging them, and then send them over to [the clinic across the street]; that’s what we were told,” Dadez said. “And the center across the street never got made.”
Weekes said, for now, no immediate changes will be made.
“In the beginning, [Florida Hospital] will just get up to speed and service students as has been done in the past. Over time, if they see there’s an additional resource or benefit they can bring to the table, then they will do that. The goal is to provide students with the same service that they are currently getting,” said Weekes.
Although the quality of care is not expected to decline, Dadez fears for the quality of compassion.
“We [the current health center staff] give a lot of care and empathy to the students, and I’m hoping that doesn’t change. There’s a way to give quality care to students, not just take their money,” Dadez said.
Skorka feels that many of the University’s core values had been overlooked.
“I believe that Saint Leo’s core value of community will take a hit. Saint Leo is a small, close-knit community and by getting rid of an aspect of that close-knit community that nurtures the health and well-being of students, we put profit and self-interest over what sets us apart as a community,” said Sroka. “If we have outside corporations coming in on campus, changing and impacting our community in a way we’re unsure of, I’m not sure of what about that is positive. It seems almost blindly optimistic to me.”
The main thing that Skorka would like to see come out of this issue is greater transparency from the University to ensure that students know what is happening with their money and their healthcare.