This week, Harvard University Health Services announced tentative plans to close Stillman Infirmary between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. this summer. If carried out, the closure would go into effect June 4 and last until August 12, during which time students seeking medical treatment at night would need to go to Mount Auburn Hospital, or another emergency room. All indications are that Stillman Infirmary has not received heavy traffic during these hours in previous summers, but there is nevertheless much cause for concern with regard to Stillman’s reduced hours. While it is true that the Mount Auburn Hospital emergency room will continue to operate 24 hours a day, the absence of any University-affiliated healthcare center at night undoubtedly poses a sizeable psychological barrier to students in need of medical treatment. As a community, we hope that all students who consider their safety to be at risk—especially due to excessive alcohol consumption—seek appropriate medical attention. We fear that students on the fence about seeking treatment for alcohol-related illness may be disinclined to do so if it would require an ambulance ride to Mount Auburn as opposed to a short walk to University Health Services.
Even if quality care is available at non-University-affiliated locations, it is unlikely that students will be as inclined to take advantage of it. While the psychological obstacle of leaving the Harvard community to seek treatment for alcohol-related illness is itself large, it is further exacerbated by the financial cost of the ambulance ride to Mount Auburn. While Stillman Infirmary is within a five minute walk from most student housing—accessible, with help, to even the severely inebriated—any nighttime trek to Mount Auburn will almost certainly need to be in an ambulance. The cost of an ambulance ride, even a short distance down Memorial Drive, can easily top $1,000, posing another disincentive to students on the fence about seeking treatment.
Since Stillman’s nighttime staff is quite small, shutting down the infirmary for 9 hours a night for 2 months, the University is not poised to be saving huge sums of money—at least, not enough money to warrant the added safety risk to students on campus. The emotional cost to the community of an alcohol-related tragedy resulting from a student’s reluctance to seek care at Mount Auburn would far outweigh any pecuniary benefits Harvard stands to gain from shutting down Stillman. Even if such an event is unlikely, Harvard should avoid at all costs doing anything that could increase its probability.
In the past, UHS has not received stellar marks in student satisfaction, and has recently been accused of negligence. While the outcome of the latter accusation is yet undecided, the decision to close Stillman at night during summer months will certainly not improve UHS’s standing with the student population. It is a reasurring feeling to know that medical care is available at UHS whenever we need it, just a short walk away. At the very least, students living on campus this summer will have to go without that sense of security, likely facing a higher risk of alcohol-related harm in the process.
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