When junior Mia Coletto visited Health Services last spring to have her blood sugar checked, she did not expect to be weighed or lectured on her diet. When Coletto disclosed to a nurse that she had recently received treatment for an eating disorder, unrelated to the issues she was experiencing at the time, the nurses immediately assumed that she was having a relapse. Colleto said staff pressured her to get on a sliding scale, although she repeatedly said no and expressed her discomfort, before informing her that their blood sugar monitor was broken.
“It kind of messed me up for at least a whole week because I could hear that in my head, the metal sliding around,” Coletto said. “I didn’t look but it was just still really traumatic.”
Coletto, like many students who had negative experiences with Health Services in recent years, has not been back since the incident. Senior Dianna Medic expressed a similar reluctance to return after she came to Health Services in excruciating pain from a joint injury and was forced to spend half an hour filling out legal information before receiving an ice pack. Senior Sosy Fleming has not gone back since a nurse talked down to them last year for not realizing the extent of the damage when they pulled a muscle.
Plenty of students have stories like these. What many may not know is that this year, Registered Nurse Kristen Wight and Nurse Practitioner Abby A. Putnam became the first Health Services staff hired directly by the college. In previous years, Knox has outsourced students’ medical care to local institutions like Galesburg Cottage Hospital. Wight and Putnam believe the college hiring on its own people represents a positive change.
“The first thought is that it makes the employees here directly invested in Knox and the students,” Putnam said.
Until this year, services like physicals and allergy shots came directly out of students’ insurance. Last term, Knox began including a Health Service Fee in students’ tuition. This covers regular visits, eliminating most insurance fees for students. The fee covers testing done on campus (bladder infection, strep throat, pregnancy, mono, influenza), allergy injections (as long as students provides serum and instructions from an allergist), some immunizations and an annual STI test. Offering more services on campus cuts out the issue of transportation and makes them more cost-effective for students.
“The vision that Knox has for this clinic is that we try to make any basic service as cheap or free for a student as we can,” Putnam said.
Students will still use their insurance for testing that cannot be completed on campus. The clinic can prescribe birth control but not provide it. Certain lab work and blood work cannot be done on campus. Wight and Putnam try to be very clear about which services students will be charged for and are always willing to help fill out insurance forms. They enjoy working with college students, many of whom are on their own for the first time, and feel they are in a position to educate and advocate. Wight hopes students feel comfortable dropping by Health Services just to ask a question.
“A lot of the times it’s hard when they’re away from home for the first time just to understand how to use their insurance at a pharmacy and those kinds of things,” Wight said. “It’s pretty easy in this job just to take some time to explain to them this is how it’s gonna work and this is what you’re gonna do.”
Wight and Putnam have been able to expand the medical services offered by the college while ensuring treatment stays affordable for students. Last year, students could only receive immunizations from the Knox County Health Department. This year, Health Services has been able to obtain a TB test and now offers some immunizations at a cheaper price than the Health Department. They are currently working with Family Planning to have a free STI screening day on campus in the spring.
Wight and Putnam are on an open forum with the American College Health Association, an advocacy group for healthcare providers on college campuses. They enjoy looking at what other colleges are doing and what they might provide in the future.
“We’ve kind of taken things one at a time,” Putnam said. “Our first goal was to fill the cabinets with the things that we needed. The TB test was new within the last month, the STI test was new within the last six weeks.”
Beyond offering a wider range of services for less, Wight and Putnam aim to make students feel welcome at Health Services. They have both been nurses (Wight in pediatrics and Putnam in ER) for 20 years and emphasized that not much surprises them. Wight tries to do a lot of follow-up visits and re-checks with students. Putnam said the easiest part of the job is being kind and really listening to student concerns.
“We really want to be here for them no matter what issue they have how small or how big, we want them to come in,” Putnam said.
Coletto said she walked out of Health Services last year feeling like the staff simply didn’t care. Other students have echoed this sentiment, citing a lack of empathy or suggesting student concerns are not taken seriously enough. Coletto said she would like to see a Health Services that puts in the time and care to understand where students are coming from. This is the Health Services clinic that the new staff, assisted by Counseling Center administrative assistant Vicki Swedlund, wish to create.
“The main thing is that we’re here to advocate for students in their best interest and that we care about students and want them to feel welcome,” Putnam said.