Dick's House offers reduced hours

by Laura Bryn Sisson | 7/21/11 10:00pm

Reduced staff on duty, shorter appointment hours and the closure of the all-night infirmary are some of the adjustments Dick's House has made for a reduced student body during Summer terms, according to Director of Health Services Jack Turco. Keeping the infirmary open over Summer term "would be not a good use of the College's and students' tuition money," due to the smaller student body, Turco said.

The infirmary has been closed over Summer terms since 1991, he said.

Some adjustments have been made to the Good Samaritan program due to the shorter hours and fewer staff, but they should not have a large effect on student safety, according to Director of Safety and Security and College Proctor Harry Kinne.

"The numbers [of Good Samaritan calls] are significantly lower in the summer there are not a huge amount of cases," Kinne said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

Safety and Security officers do not adjust the level of intoxication at which they send intoxicated students to the hospital given the infirmary's closure, according to Kinne.

"Good Sams we treat exactly the same way [as in other terms]," he said. "We respond the way we normally would."

Just as during other terms, Safety and Security officers judge a student's intoxication and determine whether the student needs medical care, requires observation or does not require any attention, according to Kinne and Turco. The main difference in the summer is that students who require observation are placed under the care of a sober friend instead of sent to the infirmary, Kinne and Turco said.

In the summer, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center tends to keep students hospitalized for intoxication longer than when the infirmary is open, according to Kinne and Turco.

DHMC usually releases students to Dick's House infirmary for observation after their blood alcohol content drops to non-critical levels. Without the option of the infirmary, however, students remain hospitalized until they are judged safe to be released to their dorms without observation, Kinne and Turco said.

Emergency room visits are covered by the Dartmouth Student Group Health Plan and by many other insurance plans, Turco said. Though students are charged for observation at the Dick's House infirmary when they are intoxicated, students are not charged when they are released to Dick's House from DHMC.

To keep the infirmary open over the summer, Health Services would have to request an increased budget from the College, Turco said. This could in turn increase students' medical fees per term from the current $75.

Over Summer term, Dick's House employs fewer nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, Turco said. The reduced staff hours equal a loss of one Full Time Equivalent, making Dick's House staff six Full Time Equivalents in the summer, rather than the usual seven. The ratio of practitioners to potential patients, however, is much higher during the summer because so many fewer students are on campus, Turco said.

The number of mental health counselors at Dick's House is not reduced during Summer term, according to Turco.

"If we had that extra money, I think it would be much better spent to hire another counselor or two [than to keep the infirmary open in the summer]," Turco said.

During the Summer, Dick's House closes its appointment hours at 4 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m. and does not have an urgent care period from 4-6 p.m. as it does during the rest of the year.

A doctor is on call 24 hours every day in all terms, providing advice after Dick's House closes and over weekends, Turco said.

Turco received "two or three" after-hours calls total in the last week in which he was the on-call doctor. Several were from students asking how to set up appointments with the health service, he said.

Some students interviewed by The Dartmouth said they did not believe Dick's House had adequate resources to treat patients efficiently, especially in the summer.

Wait times for appointments at Dick's House are actually shorter in the summer, because of the increased staff-to-patient ratio, according to Turco.

Julie Powers '13 said she called Dick's House last week and received an appointment less than two hours later. She was tested, diagnosed and treated for strep throat immediately, she said.

On Saturday, however, Gaby Sauza '13 was told she would have to wait until Monday to be seen at Dick's House to confirm her strep symptoms. A friend drove her to DHMC and she was treated immediately, but not being able to go to the infirmary was an "inconvenience," she said.

"When they're fully staffed, they're pretty good about seeing you quickly," Jill Lyon '13 said.

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