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Aug. 31, 2012
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

Student Health Services offers top care

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Good health care is a vital part of the college experience, and few institutions can match the experience and preparedness of Slippery Rock University's Student Health Services, said Kristina Chiprean, director. The 22 health care providers and support staff who provide care 24-7 offer a collective 533 years of health care experience.

"When you look at the years of experience - 533 years, or five centuries of collective knowledge - what it means is that our staff are very skilled at making good health care judgments and coordinating resources to care for students," Chiprean said.

"I am one of the relatively newer staff members, and I have been here 20 years," Chiprean added. "We have a dedicated group of nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians who are committed to taking care of our students and are specialists in this age group."

The not-for-profit Student Health Services offers high-quality sick and wellness care for SRU's more than 8,700 students, whether they live on or off campus. Student Health Services offers health education information, initiatives and resources to assist students in making lower-risk choices and promoting healthy lifestyles during college and in the years beyond.

As the fall semester gets under way, Chiprean said Student Health Services is prepared to address a wide variety of health care needs: physical, psychological and social through medical and nursing interventions. Medical issues common to college students include sports injuries, influenza, sore throats, skin infections, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and mental health issues, including depression and attention deficit disorder. Staff also helps students manage chronic illnesses such as asthma.

Staffing the center are a physician, five nurse practitioners, one health promotion educator, 13 registered nurses and two clerical employees.

"If students aren't healthy, they can't learn," Chiprean said. "Illness impacts the student's ability to make academic progress. We are here to help them stay healthy and keep them in class."

Chiprean said staff members take a three-pronged approach to assisting students with health needs. They provide clinical services, a full range of immunizations and evaluations such as what a doctor's office provides. They do a lot of health promotion activity to emphasize wellness and prevention, and they protect the public health of the University. There is no co-pay required if the center provides services in house. Labs, x-ray, specialist referrals and emergency room visits are where insurance comes into play, she said.

"We are the students first place to go," Chiprean said. "If they're not feeling well or are having problems, whether it be physical, emotional, adjustment problems or they are having problems with their medicines, we are here 24-7 to help them with their health care. We are proud of our strong collaborative relationships with other campus departments and assist students in obtaining those services--for example the Counseling Center or the Bridge Project.

New this year, Chiprean said, is rapid strep testing for sore throats. Nurses will swab a student's throat and place the cotton in a solution for a positive or negative reaction. In previous years, it took 12 to 24 hours to obtain a diagnosis from an off-campus lab.

"Rapid strep testing lets us know right away if a student has strep throat," she said. "It's a quick, in-house procedure. We can do it as part of their clinical exam, so they will know before they walk out the door if the testing indicates they have strep throat."

Chiprean said rapid testing would help cut down on the overtreatment of sore throats with antibiotics. "More than 99 percent of all sore throats are viral in nature, which means antibiotics do not help, and visual inspection is not enough to determine the difference between viral and bacterial infections," Chiprean said. "Antibiotic resistance is a danger of prescribing antibiotics for viral infections. Rapid strep testing will assist clinicians in planning treatment options with students"

One of the major initiatives of the office each year is to provide free flu shots.

"Last year's influenza season was extremely mild," Chiprean said. "This year, levels of flu are already much higher than what we normally see in August, so we are strongly encouraging people to become vaccinated. We have our shipments in and are ready to vaccinate. Students may come to the Health Center or we will be offering a variety of flu clinics in October at locations around campus."

Although flu cases were down last year, Student Health Services had a busy year. They had 18,848 clinical contacts equaling 8,393 hours of service - 2,000 more hours than the year before, Chiprean said. The average student visit lasted 27 minutes. Health services provided 1,260 tuberculosis tests, 763 immunizations, 633 flu shots and 558 allergy injections. Staff referred 265 students to a hospital emergency room. Mental health concerns accounted for 427 student visits.

Chiprean emphasized there is no co-pay required for an appointment. All services provided in-house, with very few exceptions, are completely covered by the Student Health Fee.

"One of the things that I do want to point out to people is we're available for all students who pay the health fee," she said. "So if they're taking classes on campus then it's almost a certainty that they have paid the health fee and they can come here for care. There is kind of this urban myth, or rumor or legend that's going on out there, that says you have to live on campus to come here - not true. If a student has paid the health fee they are eligible for care."

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.