Sick call

The Student Health Center treats more than just stuffy noses and coughs

If you’re a Chico State University student, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll spend at least a few hours this school year at the Student Health Center.

College life makes for a perfect place to breed germs, what with the close confines of the dorms, the classrooms, the shared kitchens and bathrooms and libraries. The health center reports that it scheduled a full 40,000 visits last year. With a student population of about 16,000 people, that means that on average each student went in for care at least twice last year.

You get the picture.

That said, here are some things you should know about getting sick and getting well again in Chico.

All Chico State students are “covered” for basic health care at the university’s Student Health Center. Students pay for the service via the $99 health fee that’s tacked onto the tuition they pay each semester. The center’s acute-care clinic—which is essentially a walk-in-and-wait-a-long-time-to-see-the-doctor-type place—is the busiest part of the health center, especially during the winter cold and flu season and the spring allergy season.

“That’s when we see the most people, when we get the busiest,” said Assistant Director Gloria Barris. “They start coming in droves.”

Along with providing patch-up care for the common cold (sore throats, coughs, nausea and the like) and free allergy and flu shots, Barris said the center also sees a lot of visits for routine gynecological and birth control needs. Women’s Health, as it is referred to on the center’s Web site, is “probably the second most-used [service] offered,” Barris said.

UNDER PRESSURE The Student Health Center scheduled more than 40,000 appointments last year, for health concerns ranging from annual gynecological exams to allergy consultations to upper respiratory infections. Here, LVN Diane Jones checks the blood pressure of student assistant Sandy Cullen.<p>

Photo By Tom Angel

On the routine and pedestrian side, the center offers discounted prescriptions for birth control pills and diaphragms, as well as more controversial prescriptions for “emergency contraception,” commonly known as the morning-after pill.

Barris called it “Plan B” and said that during the five-month Spring 2002 semester, it was prescribed just under 200 times.

Center Director Pedro Douglas said that the center provides “first-rate health care,” although not many people outside the campus community are even aware it exists. The center also offers pharmaceutical care for depression and includes a full pharmacy and X-ray lab. While it treats mostly minor illnesses and injuries, a handful of serious conditions have been caught in early stages there. Serious conditions that require surgery and/or inpatient care are referred out to local hospitals.

“We’ve seen cancer and appendicitis and things like that,” Barris said. “Sometimes we see them that day and they’re in surgery that night.”

Barris acknowledged that STDs are one of the major health care concerns among Chico State students, and Douglas said that the center is making an ongoing effort to educate students about the diseases.

“Student education has been a major goal of the Student Health Services during the past year,” Douglas said. “We now have an internship program and health educators whose primary focus is to assist in educating the student population regarding STDs and a host of other heath-related issues that pertain to our student population.”

Chico State has provided health care to its students—in some form or other—almost since the day it opened. In the early part of the century, Barris said, the college had a “school nurse” who took care of routine medical needs. By 1959, the university had formalized its health care facilities to provide an office in the former Yuba Hall (later demolished to make way for the BMU expansion) for a part-time physician who also maintained a private practice in town.

In 1974, with an increasing enrollment, the university built the Student Health Center at its current Warner Street location. The center underwent a major expansion in 1996, adding a slew of new exam rooms and medical offices, along with expanding and renovating the pharmacy.

“We don’t publicize it, but we have done some pretty great things over the years," Barris said. "We’re here to make sure the students are as healthy as they can be."