Health Center restores staff hours

Three years after cutting nearly half of its staff’s hours, the Pierce College Student Health Center has fully recovered and is operating as it did before the cuts in 2012.

The center was put under a great deal of strain from a combination of budgetary factors, which resulted in the loss of 40 percent of the staff’s hours, according to Beth Benne, the center’s director. Benne said the cuts seriously damaged the center’s ability to serve students, and that it has only just returned to its former strength.

“We lost every morning [shift],” Benne said. “There was nobody here in the mornings except Friday.”

According to Benne, the center’s budget can be as high as $480,000 per year depending on enrollment, and comes solely from the health services fee each student pays when they sign up for classes. However, its expenses regularly exceed $500,000.

The fee, $11 in fall and spring and $8 in winter and summer, hasn’t changed in years, according to Benne. While the budget was never cut, it stagnated while operating costs rose.

Nurse practitioner Kira Shteyman, a six-year veteran of the health center, said the center has had to deal with a number of other problems in the past. She cited privacy issues at the center’s previous location, which it vacated in 2009 after the completion of the Student Services Building that year.

“We did not have privacy back then,” Shteyman said. “We only had a partition, and that was not cool.”

Shteyman acknowledged that the move put an immense strain on the restrictive budget, but said it was a necessary and welcome change.

The new location, though modern and well-equipped, remained understaffed and below its operational potential due to the health center’s deficit, according to Benne. She contacted Earic Dixon-Peters, the vice president of student services, and said Dixon-Peters was surprised to learn the office was still operating at diminished capacity.

Benne attributes the center’s recovery to Dixon-Peters, and said it was he who noted that both her salary and benefits were paid for entirely by the health fee. Dixon-Peters suggested that Benne push to have her salary paid for by the Program 100 funds, a non-restricted fund given to the district and comprised of local, state and federal revenue sources and intended to pay for general operational services. She took the advice and went before the school’s budget committee, where she successfully lobbied to have half of her salary paid for through the fund.

“Dr. Peters was the driving force behind getting my salary paid for out of Program 100,” Benne said.

The move resulted in an additional $60,000 of the center’s annual budget being freed up. That allowed the center to maintain its full-time staff, as well as a physician and a psychologist, both privately-contracted, and four adjunct faculty personnel comprised of two nurse practitioners and two post-doctoral interns.

Sheena Sachdev, one of the two interns, said she is looking forward to working with new groups which deal with issues of anxiety and stress, a service made possible by the shift in funds this semester. Sachdev encourages students to take advantage of their six free counseling sessions per year and emphasized her belief in the benefits of such campus services.

“There’s clearly a need for mental health [faculty] here,” she said.