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Health issues arise during flu season

February 27, 2008

Winter months are a common time for the common cold. With coughs, sneezes and fevers running amok on campus, it is vital that there be health awareness for staff, faculty, students and the entire community.

  According to the Faculty Senate Handbook, there are only three excuses for not attending class: religious observances, University sponsored activities and special events. The University does not have medical excuses listed in the attendance policy. On the Web site of the UWRF attendance policies is a link at the bottom that reads “Medical Excuses.” Unfortunately, the link does not work and simply refreshes the page.

  When asked how the lack of valid excuses for medical reasons affected her, UWRF student Destiny Gott said, “I never say anything because it’s not a legitimate excuse. It won’t really affect anything unless you miss four days and your grade gets docked.”

  Generally, if students are not sick often or do not have an ongoing illness, then the lack of a medical excuse policy does not affect them, although students feel that they have no choice because of the long-standing policy.

  “Students might feel forced to give up because no one will accommodate them. They are of the mentality that they have to go to class or they’ll fail them. That may be the cause of so much illness and germs being spread,” said UWRF student Beth Ashton.

  For the many students that unfortunately did catch the winter chill bug there is a place to go instead of the classroom. Student Health Services offers goodie bags of health aids and a brochure of the clinics in the area for students who are ill. The goodie bag includes a pocket-size package of Kleenex, cough drops, aspirin, moist toilettes, disposable thermometers and an instructional guide on how to cover your cough as well as how to wash your hands. The lobby of Student Health Services is also home to walls plastered with informational pamphlets on a variety of topics such as tips on maintaining health, STD and HPV, psychological issues, career planning and more.

  Since funding for student health services is issued from segregated fees that students’ tuition covers, the actual clinics that serve UWRF students are the River Falls Medical Clinic and the Pierce County Reproductive Health Services. Both of these clinics are accessible by the River Falls Taxi Service free of cost for students who may need a ride.

  “I think they can’t really do a policy because it could be easily exploited. But a valid doctor’s note should definitely be accepted. I’m kind of shocked that it isn’t a policy,” Ashton said. “I see it more as a professor/student issue. Teachers should be able to work with their student if there isn’t going to be a policy in place. We accept it for teachers when they’re sick.”

  When professors are sick, they have other things to worry about besides finding a substitute or whether or not their students think they are lying. Students are not the only people on campus that have issues dealing with their health care. During October, UWRF staff and faculty had a health insurance crisis.

  The faculty and staff that signed the contract for another year at UWRF in September were unaware of a health insurance change to take place the following month. The battle to retain the proper benefits has been an ongoing process for the Group Insurance Board and all other clients of the health insurance policy through the company Humana Premier West.

  “The faculty was the lowest paid in the UW System but had a wonderful health care plan. Now, we have the worst health care plan in the state and are still the lowest paid,” Stephen Olsen, UWRF faculty member and chair of Marketing Communications, said.

  One of the major issues in the case has been that of which doctors are covered on the health care plan. The plan had changed in favor of Wisconsin doctors and clinics only. Being a far western Wisconsin university, most clients of the health insurance plan reside in Minnesota as well as receive their health care in that state.

  On Tuesday and Wednesday a hearing took place in Madison regarding the bills dealing with this legislation. State Rep. Kitty Rhodes sponsored the legislation in the Assembly, and State Senator Shelia Harsdorf is sponsoring it in the Senate. They and Mary Halada, vice chancellor of Administration and Finance, joined the Group Insurance Board in Madison. They testified to the effect that the current change in the health insurance coverage has had on the faculty and staff at UWRF.

  “We raised our voices and made ourselves heard. We have become advocates of our own health,” Halada said.