Beginning in February of 2022, Winneshiek Medical Center will provide the student health service on Luther’s campus. On November 10, 2021, students, parents, faculty, and staff at Luther received an email from President Jenifer K. Ward about Luther’s new partnership with Winneshiek Medical Center, including the administration’s position behind the decision.
Following the departure of former Director of Student Health Service Diane Tappe, the administrative team at Luther College began to explore options with both Winneshiek Medical Center and Gundersen Health System regarding potential new models for the Student Health Service. According to Vice President for Finance and Administration Andrew Bailey (‘08), the administration became aware of the staff’s shortage and saw the situation as an opportunity to develop a sustainable model for the Student Health Service.
“This fall, we became aware that there’s going to be some transitions in the Student Health Center employee base,” Bailey said. “That provided an opportunity for us to step back and look at the options and think through some concerns about its sustainability, knowing demands and needs from our students and challenges with hiring.”
Student Health Service’s shortage of staff has affected Luther’s students. Sarocha Wongwatanawisut (‘25) felt she did not receive adequate personal care at the health center, and said that the new partnership will help more students receive better care.
“I’ve gone to [the health center] and I felt like they have too many things on their hands, so they don’t have enough time to care for [my] needs personally,” Wongwatanawisut said. “They don’t have 24-hour care, but they do have 24-hour residents. I have pretty severe allergies –– I’m allergic to some perfume, even a small spray can shut my system down –– so I need constant medical support. We [currently] only have health services until 4 or 5 p.m, [so] I think the Medical Center [change] will help our health service take care of more students.”
Luther’s administrative team has short-term and long-term visions for the new partnership with Winneshiek Medical Center. While they expect students to have ongoing care at the Student Health Service until the end of the academic year, in the future, the administration team hopes to expand the services being offered to provide better access for students.
“In the short term, we expect things to look pretty similar to the way they looked in the past as we finish out this year,” Bailey said. “We’re excited long term for how we might be able to expand the services that we’re offering for students on campus, better connect students with more specialized services in the community to facilitate those sort of referrals in a new way. And long term, potentially, [we can] even expand [the Student Health Center’s] infrastructure in terms of buildings and spaces on campus.”
One of the changes the Luther community should be expecting in the next academic year is that all students will be required to have health insurance to enroll. There will be future email communications about this change. Provost Lynda A. Szymanski believes it is a common practice among peer institutions, and said it would help students to get the care they need in a timely manner.
“One of our priorities is to make sure that any student can readily get the care they need in a timely manner,” Szymanski said. “It’s important for students to know that starting in the 2022-2023 academic year, all students will be required to carry health insurance, and services provided through the Student Health Service will be billable to students’ health insurance plans. This is a common practice at colleges and universities. We will have a process for ensuring that students who need assistance receive it.”
To achieve these goals, Luther’s administration team approached Winneshiek Medical Center and Gundersen Health System based on the trust they built with Luther College throughout the years. Both medical organizations submitted proposals in response to invitations. With consideration to the scope of partnership and sustainability of the model, Luther’s administration team evaluated the recommendations and selected Winneshiek Medical’s proposal.
“Both Winneshiek Medical Center and Gundersen Health System have worked with Luther College Health Services for many years,” Szymanski said. “When evaluating the proposals, we considered first and foremost the quality, scope, and accessibility of care students would receive. Among other things, we also took student costs, the financial impact on the institution, and the long term sustainability of the model into consideration.”
According to Szymanski, more communication will come regarding the insurance requirement. The new partnership with Winneshiek Medical Center will not remove medical care access from campus, but will change who will be providing that medical care.
“Students will continue to have access to routine, preventative, acute, and ongoing care at the Student Health Service,” Szymanski said. “As part of the new partnership, Winneshiek Medical Center will also assume responsibility for both asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 testing, as well as COVID-related contact tracing, on campus. Student athletes will receive care from experienced health providers. The Student Health Service will remain in Larsen Hall, so it will continue to be convenient for students.”