Seven out of the 19 community colleges in New Jersey offer health centers where students can get first aid treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, STD testing, physicals, flu shots, referrals and health and wellness counselling. Until now, Mercer hasn’t been one of them. This semester a nurse will be on campus for a few hours, five times during the semester.
Nurse Ivy Pearlstein, who comes to Mercer from an outsource organization called Hi-Tops of Princeton, has been an off-campus nurse for the James Kerney Campus in the past, but her first session with West Windsor campus students was on February 9. She will be on campus 4 more days during the remainder of the semester.
The services Nurse Pearlstein can offer include free pregnancy tests and condoms, weight and height check, depression and eating disorder screenings, as well as S.T.D. screenings and other health inquiries. Students will be assisted with advice and resources for treatments, but the nurse cannot write prescriptions for any medications, including birth control.
Fourth year Humanities and Social Science major James Reslier-Wells and Co-President of the LGBTF (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Friends) club sees value in the new nurse services despite the minimal days she will be on campus.
“It’s definitely unfortunate that her resources and her powers are limited but in comparison to the fact that up until this semester we didn’t have a nurse, it’s definitely a good step forward. To have somewhere to go and someone to go to that’s really the important part. That touches the bases of an actual service,” says Reslier-Wells.
Mercer’s LGBTF club has been instrumental in getting a nurse on campus. Second year Communications major and LGBTF member Joseph Mydlowski said, “I contacted Ivy Pearlstein to see if there could be a mutual agreement where if we needed condoms for students we could get them from the [Hi-Tops] clinic. I wanted to do it immediately. We don’t have a nurse here so to have one would be awesome,” says Mydlowski.
Dean of Students Dr. Diane Campbell is overseeing the alliance with Hi-Tops. Campbell says, “This is a partnership of Mercer and Hi-Tops where their mission is to improve the health of people between 16 and 24. We have that population here during the day so what better partnership for them.”
Campbell also said, “It gets in the way of student success if you’re sick, you’re pregnant, you have any other kinds of discomforts that you are not taking care of because you don’t have access to health care and we need to try to fix that.”
In terms of medical emergencies, however, the new nurse is not an option. According to Campbell, students and faculty are to call security for any emergency that happens on campus. “We call our security and they are trained in emergency response. So say if a student hurt their ankle [security] would probably wrap it until they can call an ambulance. We don’t have any health services on campus. We can call the ambulance, security can call the ambulance, our emergency response is that we always call security no matter what it is,” says Campbell.
In the past, however, even getting an ankle wrapped until an ambulance came wasn’t something students could count on. In a May 2008 article in The College VOICE entitled “Nowhere to go for bandages, aspirin or flu shots” reporters Susana Sanchez and Alex Hough told the story of a student, Katie Forlano, who fell during Mercer’s Spring Day festivities and wrenched her right knee badly. At that time security said they wouldn’t call an ambulance because she was a minor. In the end, her friend Zachary Zeitner, made an icepack for her knee and called an ambulance himself.
In the same article Sanchez and Hough interviewed the Dean of Mercer’s Science and Health Professions division, Linda Martin, who said she was planning to attend a leadership training session in June of 2008 to investigate possibilities for establishing some sort of “wellness center” at Mercer.
In a follow-up interview conducted by The VOICE this month Martin says of her investigations, ”We did do the survey and there was interest in having a wellness center available on campus. However, what we did find was that most students [said they] wouldn’t be using it for their regular medical types of things. What they were looking for was activities related to wellness, some education about nutrition, basically seminars on wellness-type behaviors.”
In contrast to Martin’s findings in 2008, however, a new poll of 30 students conducted by The VOICE found that while 57 percent said they would visit the new nurse for the limited health services she will be providing during her 4 days on campus 87 percent said they would visit the nurse if medications like birth control, aspirins and allergy medications were offered. It must be noted, however, that those students said they would visit the nurse only if it was at no additional cost to them.
After gathering her data in 2008 Martin decided not to pursue the idea of a wellness center on campus. Instead, she and and twelve other faculty members started up a Wellness Committee, offering services such as yoga and zumba (offered for free through the SGA) for Mercer students and staff.
Both Martin and Mercer’s president, Dr. Patricia Donohue, cited financial difficulties as the main reason that a health center was not available to students.
There are, however, NJ community colleges that offer broader health services than Mercer and they have found funding sources to defray the costs. Middlesex County College, for example, has a health department located directly on campus. According to the CCM Health Professions Pathway Grant Program posted online, funding for the health services provided at Middlesex County College comes from Northern New Jersey Health Professions Consortium.
According to Middlesex County College’s health and safety information posted online, health services are similar to Mercer’s, providing students with health counseling, first aid treatment and screenings. In addition, however, Middlesex provides students with medications, sports physicals and immunization shots beyond the common flu.
In regards to the financial challenges of providing health care to students at Mercer, Sanchez and Hough noted back in 2008 that “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation specifically offers grants to institutions and organizations that provide healthcare to what they call ‘vulnerable populations,’ which would include the low income populations served by community colleges like Mercer. In particular they tend to give money within the state of New Jersey and they offer continuing support, not just seed-money for start-up costs.”
It turns out that The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is still offering the same types of grants, including one called “Roadmaps to Health: Community Grants” which will award 20 grants of up to 200,000 dollars each to be spent over four years for projects that “span multiple sectors and perspectives [including] business; education; public health; health care; community organizations; community members; policy advocates; foundations; and policy-makers. Applicants must engage community members in the planning and implementation of projects, and must collaborate with organizations having expertise in improving the health of the public.” Mercer would seem to be an ideal candidate for such a grant.
While Mercer students’ reactions to the new nurse are mixed, in interviews with The VOICE many note the unusual fact that the college has a well-regarded nursing program but has, until now, offered no nursing services for many years. One student who noted the discrepancy is second-year Culinology major Amber Hinshaw who told The VOICE “I’m glad that [the new nurse] is here at least 4 times [this semester]. It seems kind of odd that there’s no nurse or any kind of health professional on campus particularly considering we have a nursing program here.”
The new nurse will be available on the West Windsor campus from 10-2 pm in room SC 236 on April 12, 26, and May 10 .