A planned SGA referendum would put the issue of increased student health fees on the ballot for UMKC students.
A tentative bill, discussed at last week’s SGA Senate meeting, would change the student health fee into a flat charge of at least $75 a semester. Currently the student health fee is $4.45 per credit hour, capping at 12 hours for a total of $53.40.
SGA Senate President Pro Tempe Gabrielle Stanley is spearheading the effort with the enthusiastic support of President Justice Horn, who says he is willing to support any measure on the issue that the Senate sees fit.
“There are ever increasing elements of demand for mental health services as well as health service, not only on this campus but across the United States,” said Dr. Arnold Abels, director of Counseling, Health, Testing and Disability Services at UMKC. “Unfortunately, because of staff turnover and open positions, we’ve not been able to meet that demand.”
The UMKC Student Health and Wellness Department says it is facing continued staff shortages due to a limited budget that can’t provide competitive wages for healthcare workers.
“Largely because of salary differentials we have lost all but myself and one other staff psychologist in our department,” Abels stated.
Over the past 10 years, the department has lost a number of psychologists, nurse practitioners, and is still lacking a psychiatrist or nutritionist. These shortages have led to increased wait times, and some patients must receive outside referrals due to limited staff qualifications.
Of the over 5,000 appointments made during the 2018-2019 school year, 2,405 patients were seen.
The top two reasons for visits were anxiety and depression issues, along with birth control. While the clinic handled all crisis cases promptly, those with non-emergency matters experienced longer waits.
The department spends $1.6 million a year with an average annual funding of $1 million from the current student health fee. Other outside revenue is gained from lab and testing fees and a lease payment from Brookside 51, but funding is still short. The department has remained operational, but is running a deficit with its savings in danger of running out.
“We feel, a little bit, that we’re in crisis mode,” says Obie Austin, administrator of Student Health and Wellness.
The last student health fee increase was 16 years ago, and has not been adjusted for inflation and increased student demand. Austin says the department is “landlocked” and has no further room for growth. The department proposed a $75 flat fee that adjusts the previous 12 credit hour total of $53.40 to today’s inflation rate.
Austin’s case for a flat fee would alleviate the department’s current budget constraints and equalize costs between full and part time students. Last year, 46% of UMKC’s student body was part time.The department justifies the change, saying all students receive the same level of service no matter their enrollment status.
An overall increase in revenue through student health fees would provide a budget of $2.7 million, allowing for Student Health and Wellness Services to create more job offerings at competitive wages.
These new positions would allow the rehiring of a staff psychiatrist, nutritionist and other critical roles. It would also accommodate the hiring of doctoral interns and professional development for department staff.
UMKC students could expect approximately 75 more counseling appointments a week, reduced health clinic and counseling service wait times and resumed counseling services for the Health Sciences Campus.
The Senate plans on completing their proposal in the coming weeks. A student referendum will follow in the spring.
For students still hesitant of a fee increase, Abel gave a tearful message.
“I come from a very poor background and any money that you would support, I will be highly accountable to you and the entire university,” said Abel. “I don’t take one penny lightly, I don’t take one penny for granted.”