Stillman Infirmary is a ten-bed facility at Harvard University Health Services. Given the program’s size, one might be surprised by the student outcry following HUHS’s announcement that it would shut down Stillman before the spring semester. In the past day, a petition calling for continuation of services at Stillman Infirmary had garnered 150 signatures at the time this article went to press.
Ultimately, it seems that the head of HUHS, Paul Barreira, was convinced by student outcry on the matter. It is expected that, in response to criticism, HUHS will create a 24-hour walk-in urgent care system to take the place of Stillman Infirmary. While the new urgent care unit would likely lack the overnight beds Stillman currently features, students would be able to stay at the care center for a few hours. This is a positive development, and HUHS should be commended for taking the student outcry seriously.
Original reports indicated that Stillman would be replaced by a phone triage system wherein students would call a number and speak to a nurse or therapist. After students’ symptoms are evaluated, those in need of immediate care would be directed to the emergency room, most likely at Mt. Auburn Hospital. Reallocated funds would go towards implementing “home visits” to students during business hours, same-day urgent-care online appointment bookings and expanding same-day visits during certain daytime hours.
This was made with little transparency or regard for student voice. Instead of relying on a task force composed of representatives from HUHS departments (as was done in this case), decisions should include student input from the very beginning.
The presentation of a false dichotomy between Stillman and daytime health services is also cause for concern. Certainly, Dr. Barreira and HUHS should address the perennial requests for same-day mental health services. It is discouraging and dangerous to force students to wait days or even weeks for appropriate therapy. Yet Dr. Barreira has made clear that money was not an issue in the decision to close Stillman. Therefore, there seems to be little reason to not provide both services.
Dr. Barreira claims that only 250 students use Stillman’s services each school year, but these 250 students are still members of our Harvard community, and deserve safety and respect. There should be a space where students can go in the case of medical needs, without first thinking about concerns such as transportation to Mount Auburn. HUHS does well to maintain such a space on campus.
We are glad that UHS and Dr. Barreira have noticed the negative reaction of students to their decision and have reacted accordingly. Hopefully, the force of student outcry will encourage the administration to seek student input more proactively in the future.