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Health Services considers cutting services for spouses and partners

Long wait times cited as concern

McGill Student Health Services is considering cutting coverage for spouses and partners of students to reduce long wait times at the Health Clinic.

Currently, the Student Health Clinic offers its services to dependants – spouses or partners, and children for emergencies only – of international or out-of-province students.

In the past, services were offered to other groups on and off campus, such as students visiting from other universities over the summer, or visiting for a conference. Now, apart from dependants, the only extraneous services offered by Health Services are occasional public health initiatives, such as the H1N1 clinics offered in 2009.

Director of Student Health Services Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier explained that these extra services were designed to keep physicians busy, but that the situation had changed.

“We’re overwhelmed with the demand, and we have fewer physicians,” Tellier said, adding that it was harder to recruit new physicians due to government restrictions on healthcare policies.

Other time-saving initiatives have been implemented in recent years. Nurses are trained to do certain exams, such as gynecological exams, and write initial prescriptions for contraception that are valid for a year.

However, Tellier told SSMU at a Legislative Council meeting on February 12 that Health Services is still unable to meet the needs of students. “We see the waiting lines, we hear the complaints,” said Tellier.

Tellier stressed that offering services to spouses, partners, and children was “a courtesy” that was “curtailing the service that we can offer to people who have paid for those services.”

Tellier emphasized that the cuts would mainly affect spouses and partners, as very few children are seen by the Health Clinic.

Even if the service was cut, it would not disappear automatically. “It’s not like we’re going to cut the service [overnight],” said Tellier, “We [would] continue offering it for at least one year, so people [could] then transition and hopefully find other places.”

Currently, if out-of-province, international students or dependants use health services outside of McGill, there are extra costs – that is, if they can find a physician.

“[In the case of cuts] we would look for other places to go, we’re not going to leave them high and dry,” Tellier said. “But that’s a big promise to try and fill because we know there are not many physicians across the city.”

The number of extra physician availabilities that would be created with the discontinuation of this service is hard to pinpoint. Health Services is currently in the process of implementing an electronic records system that would be better able to track who is using health services at McGill – something the current paper system can’t do.

Tellier has been talking to student groups about the possibility of this initiative since last spring. “My intention [at this point] is to get a little bit more information and make the decision now that I know how the students feel, after talking to the student leaders,” Tellier said.

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Health and Wellness Committee said in April that “a balance needs to be found between accommodating students with dependants (particularly international students whose [spouses have] accompanied them to Montreal) and prioritizing students who pay for the services.”

In the end, PGSS decided to continue lobbying for the continuation of services for dependants, but also moved to investigate the implementation of an opt-in fee for spouses and dependants.

In an email to The Daily, PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney wrote that members of the PGSS executive committee are currently looking into the matter.

When Tellier spoke at SSMU Council, he stated that health coverage was an added incentive that “helps recruit the best students,” but emphasized, “bottom line, we’re not there to make McGill’s life easier…we’re there to serve the students.”

At the meeting, SSMU Council members spoke in favour of continuing services for dependants.

“Student spouses have a huge effect on how students operate on campus,” said Clubs & Services Representative Zachary Rosentzveig. “[I think] it’s great we offer them services.”

Tellier stressed that the possible cuts to health coverage for dependants was a more long-term, flexible decision, and that other initiatives – such as administration turnover and the implementation of the electronic records system – were priorities at the moment.

However, in the end, he said, “[the decision] might not necessarily be in my hands. I might be told, ‘I’m sorry but you can’t offer that service’.”