The University of Connecticut’s Student Health Services is slated to receive a new space by about 2018, and meetings with architecture firms could begin within the next six months, director Michael Kurland said.
Plans to construct a new infirmary have been in limbo for the last few years. It has been a listed project under the university’s UConn 2000 construction and renovation plan for over 10 years, but funding from the recently-approved $1.5 billion Next Generation Connecticut initiative and Student Health Services’ own revenues have expedited the ongoing approval process for a new space, Kurland said.
“We’ve been assured that we will be getting a new facility,” Kurland said. “If all goes well, we would be meeting with architects within about six months, and it takes about a good year to start with the architects until it’s able to go out for bid.”
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said constructing a new space for Student Health Services is a priority for the university, especially in light of the current building’s increasing inefficiency, coupled with UConn’s plans to increase its already record-high enrollment over the next few years.
“The effect on Student Health Services is being considered as part of the planning to accommodate the enrollment growth,” Reitz said. “With a new facility and a modest increase in staffing, Student Health Services is expected to be well positioned to meet students’ needs and continue to provide them with an array of important health services.”
Kurland said that while in the past a new infirmary has not been the university’s highest priority, the planned enrollment of 4,500 new students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs as a result of Next Generation Connecticut – as well plans to construct new STEM-oriented facilities near Student Health Services’ current location – have elevated the need for a new space.
“We’ve been told by the administration that they actually need our real estate,” Kurland said. “They’re building a new School of Engineering building right behind us. And with the new NextGen project getting 4,500 new students – and so many of them being STEM – not only do they need this real estate for the engineering program, with 4,500 new students, we’re going to need new space.”
Kurland said his department’s current space, a 25,000 square foot brick building built in 1950, is architecturally and functionally unfit for the role it plays on campus. Its lack of sufficient waiting room space can lead to healthy students coming to Student Health Services for routine physicals sitting next to students infected with the flu and other highly-contagious communicable diseases, he said.
“You don’t want to mix really sick people with well people, people who are coming in for physicals,” Kurland said. “You don’t want them with people who have the flu and all of these communicable things. Up until two years ago, we had no waiting rooms. Most people sit out in the hall outside of their provider’s office. That never happens in the real world. We have one waiting room, but it probably only sits 12 people.”
Kurland said that due to the abundance of asbestos in the walls, the building undergoing extensive renovations to remedy its haphazard configuration is out of the question.
“The building just doesn’t really work so much anymore,” Kurland said.
Kurland said that in most doctors’ offices, each doctor or nurse practitioner has his or her own office separate from the exam rooms, allowing them to circulate between two or more exam rooms and see a higher volume of patients in a shorter amount of time. But in UConn’s infirmary, each doctor can only see one patient at a time, causing a major drag on efficiency, he said.
“It’s a really inefficient way that we’re seeing patients, and we could see a lot more with the same number of providers but maybe a different configuration, having more ancillary staff with them,” Kurland said. “You have doctors and physicians with huge offices who don’t need them. It’s not an efficient use of resources.”
Kurland said health services’ doctors and nurse practitioners work in enormous spaces that serve a dual function as both an office and an exam room, complete with a desk on one side and an exam table on the other. Students are forced to wait in rows of chairs in the hallway outside of their provider’s office, instead of in normal waiting rooms like those found in most doctors’ offices.
“In an efficient medical practice, you have each nurse practitioner or physician operating out of at least two exam rooms. And normally they’ll have two exam rooms side-by-side and a consult room,” Kurland said. “So one patient is getting ready, the other one is finishing up, and if your physician needs to see you, it can be in the consult room.”
UConn students William Richardson and Abby Mace said they share Kurland’s concerns. Mace, a sophomore, said she goes to Student Health Services four to six times a year to get her iron tested, and that the abundance of check-in areas in the building adds to its confusing arrangement.
“Doctors’ offices, when you go in, it seems like you walk into a waiting room, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable and there to help you,” Mace said. “And then in (Student Health Services) you go in and there’s a check-in and there’s another check-in down the hall, and I know that to go to the mini lab there’s a check-in downstairs. So it’s just very disorganized, and it seems like (rooms) need to be consolidated so they have one check-in room.”
Richardson, also a sophomore, said that on the occasions he has visited Student Health Services due to broken bones and bruises, he has gotten lost and waited in the wrong waiting area for 30 minutes before being directed to the right one.
“I think Student Health Services needs a major update,” Richardson said. “The building itself is really old. Everytime I go in, I feel like it’s from a horror movie. It’s just really, really old, and it’s kind of easy to get lost in if you don’t know where you’re going.”
Richardson said that at a time when UConn is attempting to elevate its national profile through a variety of initiatives – including campus-wide landscaping improvements and a branding overhaul – Student Health Services’ building remains a relic of the past.
“It’s time for a change,” Richardson said. “Everything about the university is changing – the logo, the construction over by the (School of Business) building. I think that if you have the money and the funds and the availability to (construct a new space), why not do it?”
This story was written as an assignment for a Newswriting I course at UConn. It was not published in any news outlets.