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Student infirmary to close, prompting some concern

Most students and healthcare workers have lauded the University's planned consolidation of student health options to the subbasement of Duke Clinic, but many say they are upset about one plank of the proposal--the elimination of the student infirmary.

Student Health Services, which will be much closer to the many students living on West Campus, will no longer offer overnight care, forcing students to seek medical aid at the Emergency Department should they need it. Although students said they may be less inclined to find nighttime healthcare and the move will require the firing of several employees, administrators said the infirmary does not attract enough patients to remain open.

Total admissions to the infirmary dropped from 570 in 1992-1993 to 315 last year. Last semester, an average of 1.1 students were at the facility at any given time, a number officials felt was too low for an operation with an annual $800,000 budget. That money will now go toward the new health center.

"In the long run, that money will provide much, much more extensive health care," said Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs.

But some students and healthcare workers remained worried that closing down the infirmary will adversely affect patients.

"If it's not a bad enough situation for me to want to pay out of my own pocket, then I'd be less likely to go to the [Emergency Department], whereas I might have gone to the infirmary," said sophomore Francesco Caruso.

Some nurses at the infirmary said students could have to wait two to six hours at the Emergency Department during the night.

"We have had students coming in who are tired, depressed, suicidal," one infirmary nurse said on the condition of anonymity. "There might not be a bed for them.... I'm afraid someone's going to get missed."

Most services provided by the facility--including phone and walk-in assessments and medical advice--will be retained by the Student Health Center. There will be an additional triage nurse to field calls during clinic hours, and a 24-hour advice service may be contracted out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

However, as a result of the infirmary's elimination, the University will have to lay off five or six nurses and certified nurse's assistants. "I'm very sad about that," said Dr. Bill Christmas, director of Student Health. "That was probably the hardest part of the decision."

Student Health did not originally plan to eliminate the infirmary.

In the initial blueprints, infirmary-style beds occupied a sizable section of the proposed 13,000-square-foot center. When the space was scaled down to 9,000 square feet due to budgetary constraints, the infirmary beds were eliminated.

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