Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Swarthmore staff and students have taken admirable precautions to ensure on-campus students and staff remain safe. The success of Swarthmore students’ return to campus speaks to the diligence, ingenuity, and care that the Swarthmore community has taken in following COVID-19 mitigation measures. One resource supporting students throughout the pandemic has been Worth Health Center. We at The Phoenix deeply appreciate the Worth Health Center staff’s hard work and diligence in helping keep the campus community safe. At the same time, we believe that the health center’s hours are too limited and leave students with few options for care when it is closed.
Currently, Worth Health Center is open from Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. There are no late-night or weekend hours. While Worth does provide 24/7 access to a virtual on-call nurse, students ought to have access to in-person health services at some point during the weekend.
Due to pandemic restrictions, students must obtain all medical supplies, from cough drops and over-the-counter medication to prescriptions and other specialized medical products, through Worth. If Worth is closed, students have little choice but to visit Target or CVS, as the Campus Community Store only carries bare medical essentials. Visiting off-campus pharmacies could unnecessarily expose students to COVID, and by extension, the entire Swarthmore community. While some essential trips are inevitable, the college should be aiming to reduce the need to leave campus. Leaving campus in accordance with Swarthmore policy requires the submission of an emergency form to the administration for permission. Response time to the form is one business day. Suppose a student has immediate needs for medication or prescriptions on the weekend. In that case, they are at the mercy of the administration getting back to them, or they risk getting kicked off campus or moved to isolation housing after obtaining the medication.
Additionally, if students are told that they need to be seen by a medical professional over the weekend, their only options are UrgentCare or the emergency room. Public Safety can drive students to UrgentCare but can only do it if the personnel is available and with permission from the on-call nurse. The relative difficulty of getting to these off-campus resources, both due to monetary concerns and the complex bureaucracy of the process, leads to many students trying to tough it out over the weekend at the expense of their own health. Even if students manage to get needed help off campus despite the barriers, the COVID exposure risk for the entire community increases. If a student needs to go to UrgentCare or the ER, they should be able to go with the fewest barriers possible, but if they are only going because it’s their only option to get medical attention, it creates unnecessary risk for all parties involved.
Limited Worth Health Center hours also disproportionately disadvantage students who do not have cars or disposable income. Public Safety cannot take students to Target or a drug store, so students either have to have access to a car, be able to walk, or order a car service. UrgentCares and ERs are often prohibitively expensive, even for necessary tests and care.
We are in the middle of an unprecedented public health emergency. We appreciate how hard the staff at Worth is working and all the extra effort and risk they have taken for us. If Worth were able to open just for a short period on weekends or after-hours, however, Swarthmore students would gain immense flexibility in both obtaining medical treatment and access to essential care.