A cure may be on the horizon for students sick of trekking to Gorham to access University of Southern Maine health services thanks to a project currently in the works to reopen a student health center on the Portland campus.

Portland has been without a health services center since 2010. But now USM health and counseling services and the School of Nursing are teaming up to fill the void and provide services for students in Portland while also providing a learning opportunity to nursing students.

Kristine A. Bertini, the director of health and counseling, said she has heard increasing student demand for the center to reopen. Clinical Director of the USM School of Nursing Lisa Belanger has drafted and submitted a proposal for the project to Chief Student Affairs Officer Craig Hutchinson.

The health office in Portland closed down in 2010 in part because of a $300,000 decrease in the budget but mostly over concerns about the safety of the space. According to Hutchinson, the money could have been saved by reducing staff hours, but the real problem was caused by the outdated and rundown modular unit the center occupied.

Hutchinson said the next steps for the project are to draft a business plan and submit it to the university chief operating officer for approval. Hutchinson said the center would ideally open by the fall of 2012.

Bertini said the decision was then made to consolidate the service at the Gorham office which was better designed and equipped.

Bertini said that she has been hearing complaints from many students about difficulties in traveling to Gorham to utilize health services, and this student input has had an impact in getting the project started. “We have heard that loud and clear,” she said.

Student leaders are now on-board with the project as well. A petition spearheaded by Student Senate Vice-Chair T.J. Williams received about 450 signatures in just three days, underscoring the demand for health services in Portland.

Student Senator John Burgess said he was worried over what he called a lack of outreach concerning students’ health, especially in the wake of the three reported suicides last semester. “This school has a major retention problem and part of the reason for that is that the students do not feel that they are being invested in or that the school cares that much about them,” said Burgess, a senior political science major and chairman of the Student Affairs Committee on the Student Senate.

Burgess said with a student body that has many non-traditional or commuter students, many find it difficult to get to the Gorham health office with jobs or children to consider.

A Portland health office would ideally use facilities and staff already in existence, making it as cost effective as possible, Bertini said. A definite space for a location has yet to be determined.

Furthermore, the project hopes to utilize the clinical resources of the USM School of Nursing and providing service-learning opportunities to nursing students there.

Bertini said Maine Medical Center will be providing resources and support as well, and residents studying there may have the chance to receive training at the new site. Maine Medical and Mercy Hospital have already donated several pieces of furniture and Belanger said that more in-kind contributions are expected.

Krista Meinersmann, the director of the school of nursing, said that nurse practitioners would also be able to more easily maintain their certification status by seeing more patients.


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