Last week, Bon Secours, the parent company of the college’s new healthcare subsidiary Harness Health Partners, announced that it would not provide students with certain reproductive health and gender affirmation services. The healthcare subsidiary had previously agreed to do so. Following the June announcement of a new partnership, HHP began operating the College’s student health center in July after the College ended its contract with teaching hospitals.
The June 8 Campus Digest email announcing the change in healthcare affiliates cited student feedback as the reason for the change in providers. According to Vice President and Dean of Students Karen Goff, the most common complaints from students over the past year about student health services included long lines to see providers and confusion due to to the presence of two different providers for College COVID-19 testing and general student health. Services. HHP managed the College’s COVID testing program for most of the pandemic, while UH provided general student health care.
“Based on this feedback and our own assessments, Oberlin has decided to pursue a new partnership,” Goff wrote in an email to Exam.
Goff also referenced another factor in the provider switch — that the College couldn’t get certain COVID services from UH at the time. Additionally, Goff noted that UH lacked specific academic health experience.
“Just [from] meeting regularly, it became apparent that in the area of academic health, there was not much departmental experience in this area,” Goff wrote.
According to former Student Health Services Clinical Coordinator Erin Gornall, UH has notified Student Health Services staff that the College will be ending its contract with UH at the end of May. Although the student health staff at the time were employed by UH, several members were College employees before the College outsourced student health services to UH in July 2021. Gornall worked for student health for more than six years at that time.
“We waited for news from the College, as we were College health workers before being UH [employees]”, Gornall said. “We were just hoping that maybe the College would bring us back or something.”
Although the June 8 Campus Digest email said that staff working in student health services would have the opportunity to apply for positions with HHP, Gornall and the former women’s health specialist of the services of Health student Aimee Holmes never received additional details about these nominations from the College or HHP.
Doris Jankovits, a former Family Health Nurse Practitioner from Student Health Services, sought the opportunity to apply for a position with HHP in Student Health to continue working at the College. Although she interviewed for a position, she was ultimately rejected. The reasons for her rejection were explained in an email from Deb McCarthy, a recruiter for advanced practice physicians and clinicians at Bon Secours.
“They felt that you weren’t well aligned with the culture of Bon Secours Mercy Health and maybe you weren’t happy there in the long run; this is what we would want for any of our vendors,” McCarthy wrote.
Goff pointed out that former student health staff were UH employees and not College employees, though Gornall disputed that categorization. “Last year we were employees of University Hospital,” Gornall wrote in an email to Exam. “Perhaps in the eyes of an administrator it is easy to dismiss us as such. However, when you look at how long we have all been with Student Health, most of us were College employees before to become UH [employees].”
Holmes, who had worked at Student Health for more than seven years, reflected on his disappointment at not continuing in his position.
“We’re still not there,” she said. “We are still faced with how we feel about it. We are frankly sad. I loved my job. It was the best job I ever had. I never planned to leave. I will stay there until I retire. But now I no longer have that choice.
Last week, another email from the president’s office informed the community that HHP would no longer be prescribing contraceptives for the explicit purpose of birth control or implementing gender-affirming care. According to Goff, HHP agreed in its official contract with the College that it would provide these services.
“Harness Health Partners assured us verbally and in writing that they would provide a wide range of services – LGBTQ, sexual health and women’s health, including but not limited to the prescription of contraceptives and other forms of contraceptives,” Goff wrote. “The signed agreement also included the continuation of medical care from previously established plans for gender-affirming care.”
Last week’s email from the president’s office also announced a partnership with another healthcare affiliate that would provide these services: Lorain County Family Planning Services.
“While we were disappointed with this change so soon before the start of the semester, we acted quickly to ensure our students’ needs were met without disruption,” President Carmen Twillie Ambar wrote.
According to the email, the FPSLC has already supplemented student health services and conducted sexually transmitted infection testing clinics on campus. FPSLC will begin providing students with gender-affirming care and reproductive health services on campus, “including contraception, STI testing and treatment, PrEP and PEP for HIV prevention, Pap exams and the distribution of contraceptives and reproductive health medications such as Plan B on campus,” President Ambar wrote.
The FPSLC will operate from the Student Health Center three days a week, and on the four days that the FPSLC is not operating on campus, the College will provide transportation to the FPSLC. According to Goff, the FPSLC will provide telemedicine services to students, and the College will also have an independent nurse practitioner on site.
“Oberlin is committed to the total health and well-being of all of our students,” President Ambar wrote. “This commitment requires that we provide a high standard of care across a wide range of services, including reproductive health care and gender-affirming care.”
Harness Health Partners declined to comment on these matters and asked that the questions be directed to the College.