Knox women will soon have access to more affordable reproductive care near campus, as a new contract is being drafted between the college and Family Planning.
The new deal is the product of months of administrative confusion and miscommunication.
In the past, Knox had an agreement with Family Planning that, among other benefits, provided Knox women with a breast exam, pap smear, tests for pregnancy and STDs and a hemoglobin assessment for a flat rate of $50. When the Knox College Health Center opened in 2007, the contract lapsed. Although psychology professor and Family Planning Board of Directors member Heather Hoffman said the college had this deal for at least five years before the Health Center started, members of the administration including Dean of Students Xavier Romano either denied or were not aware that the deal had ever existed.
“I don’t know quite why Xavier said there was no contractual relationship,” said Hoffman.
Valerie Harding, Executive Director of the Family Planning Board of Directors, verified that the contract had existed and been terminated.
A letter and contract sent from Vice President of Finance Tom Axtell to Dr. Hamsaveni Jagannathan at the Family Planning Service of Western Illinois on July 6, 2006 detailed the financial relationship between the college and Family Planning. It stipulated that the agreement, giving Knox students office visits for $50, would be terminated on June 3, 2007, in the event that a student health service program was implemented during the 2006-2007 school year. The document was carbon copied to Romano.
Senior Hana Garner said she spent weeks trying to find out what had happened.
“The health center, from what I’ve gathered, had no idea any of this was happening,” she said.
When Garner tried to make an appointment for a breast exam, pap smear, and pelvic exam at the Knox clinic, she said the person at the front desk was surprised she was using her Knox insurance on something she could get more cheaply from Family Planning. When Garner went to Family Planning instead, the person at the front desk there was surprised she went there now that she had a health center on campus. She got her tests from Family Planning.
Garner suspects the decision may have had to do with Knox politics.
“To be honest, I think it’s because they know that women really benefit from this, and if they just came out and said it wouldn’t be happening anymore, they’d have had a lot more up-front controversy about it,” she said. “You can’t just have this system that helps so many women on campus and then turn around and say it never happened.”
“The historical pieces to me are not particularly relevant,” Romano said. “You’re talking about things that transpired 16, 17 months ago. Whatever happened I’m going to amount to human error, move on, and deal with only the present. My only concern is how can we serve our students today.”
Hoffman thinks the sexual health needs of students can best be served by Family Planning. The Knox clinic currently offers the same battery of tests Family Planning used to offer for $50 at $180, due in part to newer tests, but mostly to the fact that Family Planning receives government subsidies that allow them to offer services more cheaply than the Knox clinic can. Hoffman also said many students prefer Family Planning regardless of price.
“I’m not saying anything against the Galesburg Clinic [which runs the Knox clinic], but as far as I can tell, students dealing with STIs have not had positive experiences except at Family Planning. I think Family Planning is the best place in the community for dealing with STIs and STDs,” Hoffman said.
Family Planning is also better equipped to handle a large volume of patients. Although Dr. Kathleen Shaw, the gynecologist who comes to the Knox clinic, has seen 81 patients since the beginning of fall term 2007, the fact that she only comes to the campus on Mondays has made it difficult to keep appointments.
Sophomore Lyle Lippincott had to make her appointment three times.
“I called and said I needed an appointment, and they told me [Shaw] only came in on Mondays. I made an appointment, and they called that morning to say she had emergency surgery and couldn’t come in. I rescheduled for next Monday and they called again to say she had meetings she couldn’t reschedule,” she said.
Though having a doctor’s appointment rescheduled is always inconvenient, postponing gynecological appointments can create particular obstacles.
“She only comes once a week and reschedules all the time. You have your period once a month, and, it’s like, you’re making appointments specifically so you’re not on your period when you go to the gynecologist,” Lippincott said.
Lippincott said she would gladly switch to Family Planning once a new agreement is reached.
“Yeah, I’d go to Family Planning,” she said. “It’s like a block. I’d walk. I understand having things on campus, but I mean, I walked to Family Planning my freshman year during a snowstorm and I did okay.”
Weighing the convenience of having an on-campus facility against the importance of getting care cheaply is one task facing Romano and Director of Counseling Services Dan Larson.
“The administration is working on finding the funds to create another contract with Family Planning for next year. In an ideal world we’d love to be able to provide these services on the Knox campus, but because FP is federally subsidized, it’s pretty much always going to be cheaper to send women there. Luckily it’s within walking distance of campus,” said senior Ellen Vessels.
Vessels and senior Emily Jensen were co-presidents of SHAG at the time of the Knox clinic’s inception and have met with Romano and Larson to address concerns that the contract with the Knox clinic made women’s health a secondary priority.
Though Larson and Romano expect new contracts to be in place within the next few weeks, the financial details have yet to be worked out.
“It may be a $50 flat fee. What Family Planning and Xavier are talking about now is, is there a way we could reduce that cost even more?” said Larson.
“The short answer is we don’t know where the money is coming from. I certainly don’t want to pass the buck to students in any way shape or form,” said Romano, who said the new contract would not hinge on Knox insurance.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that we can pull off something really special and wonderful for our students,” he said.
Family Planning is located at 311 E. Main St. #409, in the Bondi building.