Columbia Health Services’ Primary Care is inadequate and incompetent to the point of outright negligence. Whatever the reasons for this embarrassing condition—from financial straits to long hours—there is absolutely no excuse for the extremely poor level of care. Last week a close friend accidentally spilled boiling water on her leg. On an ER follow-up visit at Health Services, the doctor glanced at her wound, told her it would heal normally, and prescribed a small tub of cream. None of the Columbia medical professionals batted an eye.
The potential tragedy of the situation was only averted by the protectiveness of our friend’s mother, who made a check-up appointment the next day at New York-Presbyterian’s Burn Center. Two full days after the accident, our friend arrived at New York-Presbyterian, where the outpatient doctor took one look at the burn and immediately admitted her to the hospital. He was appalled to learn that a doctor had seen the injury and made no recommendation for more intensive treatment.
Our friend spent a week in that hospital, receiving regular scrubbing treatments. Since the burn covers a joint area, our friend could have lost some leg function if she had followed the initial advice from Health Services. The fact that this accident created such an ordeal is troubling enough, but the way Health Services exacerbated the problem is shocking.
This is only the worst and most recent instance of Health Services’ dangerously inept walk-in care. We’re sure that many of you have a personal horror story as our friends do. There was the time our housemate went to Health Services with a cough, dizziness, exhaustion, and a body ache so painful she was limping. They diagnosed her with a tension headache. Later, she was diagnosed at St. Luke’s with the flu, possibly still contagious. Given the administration’s constant hyperventilation over H1N1, you would think doctors might diagnose it in a medically responsible fashion instead of turning patients loose on the population to spread their “tension headaches” around. Then there was the time another dear friend fainted on campus, and walked to Health Services when she came to. They made her wait in urgent care while she fainted twice more.
It can actually be more dangerous to go to Health Services than to stay out. But Columbia students pay a fee to support Health Services and are expected to report there first. Health Services claims to be our place to turn when we are away from home and often out of the range of our state-based health insurance. If doctors genuinely don’t know how to handle a situation like our friend’s burn, they should encourage students to seek alternative medical opinions, not masquerade as serious medical professionals. In our friend’s case, the doctor’s facade of certainty put our friend in further danger. We have complained for years about the incompetence, slowness, and generally amateur nature of Health Services. Nothing has changed. The overworked emergency room at St. Luke’s puts Health Services to shame, and we feel less endangered braving a hospital full of contagiously sick New Yorkers than stepping into the diagnostic crazytown in John Jay.
We’ve written before about lack of community cohesion on campus, and we’ve suggested that various wings of the administration are immune to student input (or logic). But this example of incompetence goes beyond inaccessible administrators and labyrinthine bureaucracy. It demonstrates that this culture of contempt goes beyond petty turf wars. Willful disregard for students in this case is plainly unacceptable.
Many, if not all of us, are aware of the problem, but nothing changes. Now they have put one of our friends at tremendous risk, and only by going elsewhere (unrecommended) did she receive adequate treatment. We’ve had about enough. We will not be in Health Services anytime soon, but there are plenty of students who need to be able to rely on it. It is the Columbia administration’s job to take a hard look at this wretched service. We won’t guess at the structural problems today. We don’t know. But before building satellite campuses in Jordan, we must improve this deplorable condition at home.
Sarah Leonard is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. Kate Redburn is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and African studies. Shock and Awe runs alternate Fridays. email@example.com