Student health clinic smaller following budget cuts

Jeff Victor Laramie Boomerang Via Wyoming News Exchange

LARAMIE — It’s been nearly a year since the University of Wyoming implemented the last $10 million of its $42 million in state-mandated budget cuts.
But its effects are still being felt by the university employees now being asked to do more with longer hours, expanded responsibilities and fewer coworkers to share the burden with.
The UW Student Health Service once encompassed both a clinic and pharmacy, but was told to reduce its budget by $275,000 — and wound up eliminating three positions from its payroll, though there were technically no layoffs.
The unit lost two pharmacists and saw one clinician resign — a position Student Health Service director Joanne Steane said is not coming back, despite the impact to students.
“Students have noticed that it is a little less convenient to get an appointment,” she said. “We fill up our appointments quicker than in previous times when we had more clinician staff.”
Steane added these cuts were rough for a unit already impacted by the state financial crisis .
“Prior to the three staff members, there was a hiring freeze and so we also lost a front office member and a nursing staff member,” she said. “There were other staff that were lost as well.”
Student Health cut its pharmacy loose, but the UW School of Pharmacy stepped in to take it over, so the unit’s two pharmacists were not fired. The pharmacy is still located in the Cheney International Center next to the Student Health clinic. While one pharmacist has since left — and another part-time pharmacist hired — most of the work falls to Pharmacy Supervisor Megan Peterson and her three student interns.
Peterson’s workload now includes more billing, invoicing and other paperwork, as well as custodial duties — a testament to the campus-wide nature of staff reductions, which left the custodial services department 10 people short.
Relying on one full-time staff member puts the pharmacy in a precarious position when Peterson has to take off for personal reasons.
“I couldn’t find anyone,” she said about a day in November. “There was one pharmacist over at the School of Pharmacy who had worked here like 10 years ago and she came in for a couple of hours, but we still had to close down early so that I could get to a funeral.”
The stress of not knowing what would happen to the pharmacy — on top of the greater workloads — nearly convinced Peterson to leave UW in February.
“It was all the little things — like my kids knew that they couldn’t call me because mom can’t leave the pharmacy,” she said. “If they’re sick, I can’t come pick them up from school. It’s that part that was tough.”
And yet, Peterson said the pharmacy is still essential for many students, especially first-year and international students, who are less likely to have cars, making it difficult to frequent off-campus pharmacies.
“We have a lot of over-the-counter medications here,” she said. “One thing I try to do here is keep the cost low … I am constantly checking costs from the big retailers around town to keep our costs low for the students.”
Additionally, Peterson said she tries to help young people understand the ins-and-outs of insurance — a complex subject many students are learning about and managing for the first time.
“I feel like they get someone who really cares about them when they come here,” she said.
The $275,000 taken from Student Health was part of a larger effort to reduce UW’s budget by $1.8 million by way of improved “operating efficiencies.” Seeking operating efficiencies was one of four prongs of attack laid out in President Laurie Nichols’ $10 million reduction plan, which also included vacancy eliminations, faculty separation incentives and division-specific reductions.
The university is beginning to prepare a budget for the next fiscal year; a Board of Trustees committee will individually examine each division’s budget during budget hearings Monday and Tuesday.
While the Wyoming Legislature has not handed down any further cuts, there is still anxiety on campus regarding potential reductions.
“As far as next year, nothing would surprise me — nothing at all,” Peterson said. “I think I would just be sad that I wouldn’t see the students anymore.”


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