Comparing women’s health services: College campuses around Chicago offer varying degrees of health services to women

By Lindsey Woods

Students looking at colleges generally consider lengthy lists of criteria they want their prospective school to have, including how well schools accommodate their students. One criterion that may be hard to find is what kind of medical care students have access to and how much that care costs. For women in particular, this may include annual gynecological exams, pregnancy testing and access to birth control and emergency contraception.

Colleges and universities in the Chicago area vary widely in what is available. Some, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago, offer their students access to medical care provided through the school and its facilities, while others, like Columbia, offer a basic health clinic and then outsource other services to outside providers. Still others, such as DePaul University, do not have student health centers but instead outsource all student health care.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Loyola University Chicago, Northwestern University and Northwestern University Chicago all have clinics for student use on their campuses, available through health fees and school-sponsored health insurance. Roosevelt University doesn’t have a student health center, nor does DePaul, which, according to Ronald Graf, associate clinical professor of nursing at the DePaul College of Science and Health, has caused questions and concern among students and faculty.

“It hasn’t made a lot of sense to people in this area why we don’t have something like [a health center], but it’s something that I think is deep seeded, unfortunately, [at] this institution,” Graf said. “There’s been outcries by students and…faculty, but nothing has been changed up to this point that I’m aware of.”

He also mentioned that, despite being the largest Catholic university in the country, DePaul is not on par with other Vincentian Universities, such as Niagara University and St. John University, both of which have student health centers on campus.

Loyola is also affiliated with the Catholic Church. The university has a health center, although it does not provide birth control or emergency contraception because of its religious affiliations, according to Mari Jo Letizia, associate dean of the School of Nursing. It does, however, provide pregnancy testing and gynecological exams, among other services.

“Our mission pertains to women’s health, as well as all student health,” Letizia said.

DePaul outsources all student health care to Sage Medical Group, an independent medical service provider that offers “limited services,” according to Graf.

Columbia also outsources to Sage Medical Group for student health. While Sage offers annual gynecological exams, it does not provide emergency contraception or “Plan B,” for women.

According to Evelyn Figueroa, associate program director of the family medicine residence program

and director of women’s health and obstetrics at the UIC Medical Center, outsourcing patient care increases the likelihood that patients won’t seek treatment, which can be dangerous.

“People don’t tend to go to outside clinics if you send them,” Figueroa said. “I run into lots of trouble referring my patients for a variety of procedures. If I want to send someone to the orthopedist for a knee injection, they may never get there, and it’s really disconcerting.”

She also added that the reason people may not go to outside doctors when it is recommended is because they feel stigmatized, depending on the type of treatment they need. Patients seeking contraception, treatment for alcoholism and depression are among those who may feel stigmatized.

Columbia’s Student Health Center, located in the Residence Center, 731 S. Plymouth Court, and available to students through a once-per-semester fee, does not provide students with gynecological exams, Plan B, STD or STI treatment, or pregnancy planning. The staff at the health center canwrite prescriptions for birth control for students under 21 whether or not they have a current Pap smear on file, but if students are over 21, they must have a recent Pap smear. Students who visit the website looking for pregnancy resources are directed to one of three outside sources, including Planned Parenthood, 18 S. Michigan Ave., the only option that would provide students with tangible treatment options.

The Columbia Student Health Center and the Student Health and Support office could not be reached for comment.

U of I, UIC, Northwestern and Loyola all offer student access to gynecological exams, STD testing and treatment and pregnancy testing. All of these schools except Loyola also offer birth control, Plan B and pregnancy planning services.

Figueroa said students at UIC are offered varying degrees of medical coverage, including CampusCare, which offers students up to $250,000 in coverage for “[approximately] $100 [per] month.”

All full-time students on the UIC campus must pay the $90 health services fee for fall and spring semesters, which provides them access to most on-campus medical services.

“CampusCare is very cheap for comprehensive health insurance,” Figueroa said. “I don’t know if you know how much it costs to insure a woman of reproductive age in the U.S., but it’s [approximately] $500 to $700 a month, so really, students are getting a good deal.”

Most student health centers are accessible through semesterly fees assessed to students with tuition. At Columbia, this fee includes separate $40 charges for the fall and spring semesters for full-time students and $25 for the summer semester. If students choose to use Sage Medical Group’s services, they must first check to see if their health insurance covers them. Although DePaul doesn’t have a health center, it requires that students have health insurance, and both DePaul and Columbia offer students choices in terms of planning out health insurance options.

According to David Lawrance, a medical doctor at the McKinley Health Center of the U of I, students are charged a small fee in order to use the medical services the college offers, including access to the Women’s Health Clinic, which employs a gynecologist and a family-practice doctor, as well as nurse practitioners.

“Contraception, counseling and prescribing, annual examinations, pregnancy planning are all women’s health issues that are applicable, particularly to young adults,” Lawrance said. “We feel that’s part of our mission, and I don’t think that’s unique to us.”

While those services in particular may not be unique to the U of I, the way they provide their service to students is unique, as is every university or college’s way of dealing with women’s health care.