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UTEP Student Health and Wellness Center Offers New Services for Fall Semester

Last Updated on September 03, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published September 03, 2019

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP Communications

As The University of Texas at El Paso kicks off the fall 2019 semester, the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC) has rolled out enhanced services to help students remain healthy Miners.

UTEP's Student Health and Wellness Center is offering new services for the Fall 2019 semester, including free health screenings for incoming freshmen and a new clinical psychologist. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP Communications
UTEP's Student Health and Wellness Center is offering new services for the Fall 2019 semester, including free health screenings for incoming freshmen and a new clinical psychologist. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP Communications

From free health screenings for incoming freshmen to a new clinical psychologist, the offerings are part of the SHWC’s goal to educate students throughout campus about healthy lifestyles and disease prevention.

“The Student Health and Wellness Center is operated by the College of Health Sciences for the University. We are taking a proactive approach to ensure that we have a healthy student population,” said College of Health Sciences Dean Shafik Dharamsi, Ph.D. “Our students can’t afford to miss school. By keeping them healthy, we are also ensuring that they are successful in their education and their trajectory toward graduation is not compromised by a health crisis.”

Hoping to maintain students’ health and prevent illnesses through regular on-site visits, the college is creating greater awareness of the SHWC’s preventive and wellness services.

In May 2018, the college collaborated with the UTEP Student Government Association (SGA) to survey 848 UTEP students about the SHWC’s health and wellness resources. It found that 82% of students knew the SHWC existed, but only 48% of them had used the center’s services.

“We don’t want students to wait until they get sick to come see us,” said Leticia Paez, College of Health Sciences executive associate dean and administrative director of the Health and Wellness Center. “We want them to come to the health center when they’re healthy so they can stay healthy.”

That is why the college has offered all incoming freshmen free health screenings to assess their overall health and detect medical problems early. Screenings, which include blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure checks, will be offered through Dec. 20, 2019. The college estimates that each exam is valued at $250.

“I don’t get sick often,” says incoming freshman Virginia Hernandez, “but I think it’s important to know how healthy you are.” Hernandez, an accounting major, took advantage of the free health screening during the first week of the fall 2019 semester. “Not only do you not have to pay for the exam, but it’s also a good way to get familiar with the student health center. This way you know where to go in case you don’t feel well.”

Let Us Take Care of You

From January to May 2019, the SHWC facilitated more than 2,100 appointments. Undergraduate and graduate students have access to a variety of low-cost health services from routine health exams for men and women, sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention and testing, nutrition counseling, and more. Insurance is accepted and a payment plan is available for uninsured or underinsured students.

Priscilla Gallegos, a junior marketing major, was motivated to visit the health center for the first time in August 2019 after coming across a new banner in the Union Building East that advertised the SHWC’s services.

“I’m young and I’m a college student and I feel fine, but you never know,” said Gallegos, who waited in the lobby for a physical exam. “I think it’s a smart thing to do to check yourself. And it’s convenient, too, because I’m here on campus. I just made an appointment and came here.”

As part of its outreach efforts, the SHWC has been implementing new initiatives to engage students in health and wellness activities.

Since April, the health center has been hosting tabling events across campus. Students can chat with the center’s nurse practitioner or registered nurse about health-related matters.

Students also have access to the UTEP Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP) and the Brief Alcohol Screening Intervention for College Students (BASICS) program on campus. The programs were previously located outside the main campus in the UTEP Campbell Building. In July, the SHWC renovated its pharmacy area to house the programs. UTEP occupational therapy students will also use the new space to provide rehabilitation services.

Starting in September, students in University 1301 classes will tour the SHWC during Freshman Fridays to meet with the health center’s providers, which include a physician, certified medical assistant, sport dietitian and nutrition educator, nurse practitioner and registered nurse.

The health center also hosted the first UTEP Student Health Fair on Sept. 4, 2019, at Centennial Plaza. Students had the opportunity to meet the health center’s staff and learn about healthy eating, stress management and physical fitness.

“Our new concept is if our students don’t come to us, we’re going to go to them,” said David Porras, Jr., the SHWC’s business manager.

Pharmacy Closure Opens Door to New Opportunities

When the SHWC’s pharmacy closed in December 2018, it created new opportunities for the College of Health Sciences to enhance and expand the health center’s services.

According to Dharamsi, less than 6% of UTEP students used the pharmacy, which was subsidized by a $14.40 medical service fee that students pay each semester.

"The closure of the UTEP pharmacy created an opportunity for UTEP to strengthen the services at the Student Health and Wellness Center,” said Gary Edens, Ed.D., vice president for UTEP student affairs. “The Student Government Association led an effort to ensure that our students’ pharmacy concerns were addressed and that they were provided with suitable alternative services such as mental health, stress and anxiety management, which students specifically asked for.”

The college collaborated with the SGA to use the funds to focus on services that the students wanted the center to offer. More than 20% of students who participated in the May 2019 survey said the SHWC should provide mental health services to treat stress, anxiety and depression. Another 8% said they wanted drug and alcohol treatment programs.

“Over the last two years, we have been planning to increase the impact of the Student Health and Wellness Center,” Dharamsi said. “We looked at inefficiencies, where there are low utilization rates, and we learned that we were spending money on a pharmacy that was not being utilized. That closure enabled us to then develop priorities in response to the real needs that students have and to begin to put those initiatives in place.”

The pharmacy’s closure also created a new partnership between UTEP and University Medical Center (UMC). Students can access pharmacy services at any of UMC’s seven pharmacies located throughout El Paso. In March 2019, UMC stationed a nurse practitioner at the SHWC, who sees students from 7 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Students can also take advantage of UMC’s diagnostic services.

The SHWC has continued to work on new initiatives. Conversations are underway to explore opportunities for kinesiology students to provide personal training and coaching at the UTEP Student Recreation Center.