After-hours hotline comes to Mary Walker

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In an effort to better serve Oswego State students after regular hours and on weekends, Mary Walker Health Center has begun using a hotline that provides health information services.

FONEMED, which takes over when Walker closes, offers a medical hotline with a registered nurse who can answer questions for students and help them make informed decisions.

"It’s a subscription service that we bought and it started about two months ago," Jean Grant, coordinator of clinical services, said.

Students have emergency medical services available after hours in the form of SAVAC, which formed in 1971 when the health center began operating on reduced hours due to budget cuts.

FONEMED is meant to give students an alternative to calling SAVAC or going to the emergency room for minor problems or basic medical concerns that occur while Mary Walker is closed.

"It’s a stop gap really for the benefit of students who don’t know what to do after hours," Grant said.

According to their Web site, FONEMED is a call center that features registered nurses that serve health institutions across the U.S. and Canada. The hotline provides health information to over 2,000 client groups throughout North America.

When a student calls the 800 number, a registered nurse will answer and ask a few demographic questions and then begin handling the student’s medical issue. The nurse uses an evidence based protocol questionnaire to keep inching towards the problem and eventually suggest options.

Usually a concerned friend will call on behalf of the sick person to figure out what should be done. The friend can still provide the nurse with valuable information about the sick person.

If the registered nurse senses the student needs immediate medical help, the nurse would contact SAVAC or another emergency response service and stay on the line with the sick person until help arrived.

Walker Health Center had been considering having an after-hours hotline for some time. Grant has wanted the service for students for a long time, but the cost hindered its implementation. All the costs of operating Walker Health Center come out of the mandatory student health fee.

"So we’re very mindful about how we spend that money and is there any way around having to spend that money," Grant said.

The contract the health center has with FONEMED provides for 15 calls per month, with every call beyond that costing approximately $17 a piece. In the two months since the hotline has been available, there have been three calls, but Grant expects that number to go up as more students find out about the service. All calls are followed up on by Mary Walker when the health center reopens.

For many students, college is the first long period of time being away from home without sound advice on how to handle incidents where they may be injured or ill. When parents and children are hundreds of miles apart, parents often do not know what to tell their kids other than to go to Oswego’s emergency room.

"We have a whole generation of people who… don’t have the confidence to take care of themselves as well as they could," Grant said. "This is a tool that they can use to give them a little boost of confidence."

Despite the presence of the new hotline Grant says FONEMED won’t replace SAVAC on campus.

"There’s room for both… we have pretty good coverage after hours," Grant said.

Above all, Grant says the most important thing is to provide consistent service to students.

"Students have options, when our doors close it doesn’t mean the end of healthcare," Grant said.

FONEMED can be reached at 1-877-617-9538.