University, student health centers to merge; public meeting scheduled for March 4

February 24, 2010 by Mark Cramer @NMSU the online newsletter for NMSU staff and faculty.

NMSU Student Health Center

NMSU Student Health Center

The University Health Center and the Student Health Center at New Mexico State are merging into one facility, as the Student Health Center will undergo an expansion and renovation to house both.

While the project has been approved, a public meeting to discuss the design schematics for the expansion will take place at 4:30 p.m. March 4, in the open meeting area on the second floor of the Corbett Center.

“We’re in the early schematic design phase, so we’re hoping to get some feedback on the design of the project,” said Lori McKee, who directs the university’s health and wellness program. “We’re hoping to finish up the design phase and get the architecture and construction bids in by this summer, and hopefully begin construction in August.”

University architect Michael Rickenbaker estimates the expansion will take about eight months.

“Part of the March 4 presentation will focus on how the center will operate during renovation, and then how it will operate when the integration is complete,” he said. “Part of the process is understanding what we need to accomplish and to get input on the design to take back to the building committee.”

The University Health Center, which sees faculty, staff and their dependents as well university retirees, has resided in the Arrowhead Business Center on the southern edge of the campus since its inception in 1990. The Arrowhead Center is interested in reclaiming the real estate used by the University Health Center to help incubate business and research endeavors, and McKee said that the merger of the centers would lead to an immediate savings of $71,000 a year, the cost to rent the Arrowhead Center property.

“Economically and sustainably, operating two health centers in two different silos didn’t make good sense,” said McKee. “This makes more and better sense for everyone served in our centers, and it allows us to be good stewards of student and university funds.”

The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.5 million, and will be funded through student fees.

“Our students have been an exceptional resource in this endeavor,” praised McKee. “We took this to the Student Fee Review Board and they agreed to service the debt and expansion. There is going to be no additional cost to the university and no increase in student fees.”

Student fees also covered the Student Health Center’s $2.1 million renovation in 2000. The Student Fee Review Board approved rolling the new costs over into the current fee debt service. In this way fees will not need to increase for the expansion project.

It makes sense to combine the facilities into the existing Student Health Center for a variety of reasons, according to both McKee and Rickenbaker-not the least of which is the student center’s optimal location near the center of campus, and right along the Aggie Transit bus route. Plus, cost savings should be seen via a reduction in duplication of services.

“Because of the two separate facilities, in many cases we have twice the equipment needed for a facility that serves the number of patients that we do,” said McKee. “This will create an opportunity to provide full services for faculty, staff and students alike. We’re going to be able to meet needs we have not been able to meet before.”

Supply costs will also go down, as less equipment will be needed and existing staff is merged into one location. McKee also estimated that by the time the merger is complete, the health center should be about 90 percent paperless, which should cut operational costs. Both centers switched to an electronic medical record system in December 2008.

The expansion will lead to enhanced facilities for everyone, including a full-service pharmacy, x-ray services and enhanced laboratory areas. Rickenbaker anticipates no service interruptions while the project is ongoing.

“We anticipate that the work on the Student Health Center will cause no interruption in services, at least without significant notification in advance,” said Rickenbaker, who also pointed out that when the Student Health Center went through a major, yearlong renovation in 2000, it remained totally operational.

The Student Health Center currently sees 29,000 students annually, while the University Health Center serves 7,000 employees, retirees and dependents a year. All staff at the University Health Center will transfer to the Student Health Center once expansion is complete.

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