Exclusive: College considers closing on-campus employee health clinic to cut costs

By Olivia Cohen, Senior Editor

Ruth Johnson

To help address the deficit and cut costs, Columbia is considering closing the on-campus health clinic for staff and full-time faculty.

The clinic, which is administered by CareATC, is housed in Columbia’s 600 S. Michigan Ave. building and offers primary care for employees and dependents, vaccinations and other health-related services. Part-time instructors do not have access to the clinic.

Madhurima Chakraborty, president of Faculty Senate, said the potential closure caught senate leaders by surprise. The Faculty Senate was not told directly that the clinic could be closed.

“In my position as Faculty Senate president, a top concern of mine is that we were not informed about this possibility until we heard a rumor,” Chakraborty said. She then emailed the Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot and confirmed it.

“We anticipate that other such cuts are coming our way, and we’re aware that others at the college are in charge of leading financial decisions,” she said. “It is worrisome, though, that we were not engaged in any conversation about the removal of a key benefit for our faculty. We were not even informed of its possibility.”

David Houle, immunization compliance coordinator for the Office of the Registrar, said he and his partner have used the CareATC clinic many times throughout his time at the college and said the doctor is “top-notch.”

“Having the clinic right on campus means I miss less work because I don’t have to travel off campus for an appointment,” Houle said. “Were the clinic to close, not only would I potentially miss more work to take care of doctor’s appointments, but my healthcare costs would increase significantly.”

For example, Houle said while routine blood work at CareATC is free, it can cost hundreds of dollars at a personal doctor.

Craig Sigele, academic manager for the Communication Department and president of the United Staff of Columbia College, said the decision will affect the well-being of faculty and staff.

“We understand the fiscal pressures facing the college; however, the potential health clinic closure affects staff and faculty well-being, disrupting trusted care,” Sigele said, trust that has been built with the clinic’s primary physician, James Barrett. “Long-term repercussions are difficult to predict, but job satisfaction and productivity must be weighed against short-term cost savings.”

Pernot told the Chronicle on May 17 that the clinic is among the cuts the college is considering but that no final decisions have been made.

He said the clinic costs more than $500,000 a year to operate, adding that usage is consistently below 50 percent.

“The college needs to reduce expenses for the 2023-24 academic year with the goal of minimizing cuts that could affect the institution’s core educational mission,” Pernot said.

He is expected to meet with union representatives on Tuesday and Faculty Senate leaders on Wednesday.

Pernot said the college will continue offering health coaching and biometric health screenings required by insurers to lower deductible costs.