Student Health Services under stress, causing student frustration

A COVID testing procotol sign rests resides in front of the Robert E. Tranquada student services center.
Operating three testing sites and providing additional services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Student Health Services is hiring to address expanding demand from 5C community members. (Olivia Shrager • The Student Life)

Since students have returned to Claremont, Student Health Services has seen a surge in demand. But as some encounter difficulty in obtaining appointments to use its services, the clinic might be causing more headaches than it cures.

Amid a nationwide healthcare staffing shortage, SHS has struggled to keep up with both the demand for COVID-19 related appointments and other routine medical needs. In response, it has been actively hiring new staff while upping its services to handle the colleges’ COVID-19 response. 

SHS is operating three testing sites in addition to its usual full-time clinic this semester, The Claremont Colleges Services spokesperson Laura Muna-Landa said in an email. It has also hired a contact tracer, testing site clerk, testing site supervisor and COVID-19 services manager in addition to more medical assistants, registered nurses, receptionists and administrative staff to handle the increased workload it is facing. 

Muna-Landa said that same-day and walk-in appointments are available for students with health concerns. But if it’s not possible to accommodate a student, they’ll be directed to 7C Health for a telehealth visit. 

When Kate Katen SC ’25 noticed a rash spreading under her arms, she went to SHS for a walk-in visit. She was told they had no availability to see her for at least two weeks and the worker she talked to gave her the number to set up a telehealth visit. Katen said she was told she could send in pictures of her rash to a doctor and get it examined. 

“I basically decided that if my only option is to call the doctor, I would rather just call my doctor from home,” she said. 

Katen said she sent in pictures to her doctor at home, but was advised to get her rash looked at in person. According to Katen, the conversation occurred on a Friday night and, because she could not go back to SHS until it opened on Monday morning, her doctor decided to send a prescription for antibiotics to a local pharmacy she could go to over the weekend. 

“Normally with antibiotics you only take them if you have to,” she said. “But it was to the point where [my doctor] was like ‘you need to take these antibiotics because if you don’t and it’s what we think it could possibly be, it could be really bad and it might not heal.’”

Since taking the medicine, Katen said, the rash has begun to heal. 

“I think my situation was just very lucky because I had a doctor back home who I could talk to,” she said. 

Sienna Samione SC ’25 went to SHS after developing a persistent cough. Like Katen, she was told she could not make an appointment in person and was directed to 7C Health. During her telehealth visit, which she said lasted two and a half minutes, she was asked for her symptoms and allergies, whether or not she had been tested for COVID-19, and then was immediately prescribed medicine for her cough to pick up at a local pharmacy. 

“I was surprised by the lack of questioning they did. Because I figured that if this was a real doctor who was going to prescribe the medication that they would want to know a little bit more about my symptoms,” she said. 

Edward Dong PO ’25 had a more positive experience when SHS and the Pomona College administration helped him quarantine as an international student upon his arrival to campus in August. 

“I appreciated the efforts that SHS made to make my transition smooth and straightforward,” he said via message. “Although I faced some lack of messaging and confusion regarding the logistics of quarantine, I was able to make it through with relative ease.”

But Dong said he believes SHS could do more to better support students. 

“Communication with students could be improved. I feel like they should directly talk to the students rather than relying on the admin,” he said.

Pomona Dean of Students Avis Hinkson said in an email to students Wednesday that the deadline for receiving a mandatory flu shot was extended to Oct. 29 “in acknowledgement of the difficulty some students are facing in getting a flu shot,” from the previous Sept. 30 deadline. Although SHS gave out more than 3,000 shots during its clinics earlier in September, according to Muna-Landa, some students have since found SHS’ flu shot offerings difficult to access.

“I was trying to get my flu shot on time, so I was intending to go to SHS, but my friends said that they had to wait for over an hour,” Jordan Hoogsteden PO ’23 said. “I ended up needing to find a ride to get my shot off-campus so I wouldn’t miss class.”

Hinkson added that the college is working on securing additional flu shot resources and will update students as soon as possible. 

“If you have an appointment scheduled with SHS for your flu shot, please do not miss that appointment as we don’t want to waste any opportunities to get a flu shot,” she said.

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