College Outsources Student Health Services, Leaving Staff in Limbo


Gigi Ewing

Oberlin will outsource health services to University Hospitals starting on July 19.

The College will begin outsourcing Student Health Services to University Hospitals Health System starting July 19. Most staff will have the chance to reapply for their jobs through UH, but Medical Director Cristal Tomblin was not invited to reapply and was instead replaced with a UH employee effective June 21.

The College attributes COVID-19 as the driving factor in outsourcing healthcare services, rather than a desire to cut costs, which drove the decision to outsource custodial and dining services a year ago. By partnering with UH, students will have access to UH’s network of specialists, and Student Health will be able to offer increased hours. The decision will not affect counseling services, as the Counseling Center will remain managed by the College. 

The College declined to disclose who was responsible for the decision to outsource health services. With multiple leadership changes within student life over the last three months, the Review has not received responses from multiple people to determine who was involved in discussions about changing healthcare services or who oversaw the bidding process for the new student healthcare provider.   

“It is clear that COVID-19 has redefined the level of care an effective Student Health Services Department must provide,” wrote the College in an announcement from the June 18 Campus Digest email. “As a result, the College has decided to affiliate Student Health Services with a substantial health care system that can readily provide additional levels of care.”

In addition to offering a competitive contract to the College, UH is also familiar with the College campus. UH has already provided sports medical services to Oberlin and several other colleges. The partnership is an opportunity to expand the number of services the health system provides to campus with no additional costs to students. 

“UH Primary Care will be providing wellness, sick, and chronic care at the Oberlin College Health Clinic,” wrote UH Senior Media Relations Strategist George Stamatis in an email to the Review. “If specialty care is needed, students will have the opportunity to schedule with a UH specialist for continued care. This can be done with an in-person or virtual visit.”

While the upcoming partnership promises to expand the healthcare services that students have access to, the decision has left the current Student Health Center staff in limbo. On June 17, one day before the public announcement, four staff members were informed they would no longer be employed by the College beginning July 18. 

“A representative from UH spoke with our staff on June 17 about the transition,” the Student Health Staff wrote in a joint statement to the Review. “We were notified that UH would provide a new medical director starting June 21. Our nurse practitioners, registered nurse, and medical assistant were told that we have the opportunity to apply for our current positions through UH. We are currently waiting on the application process through University Hospitals.”

Tomblin was not offered the opportunity to re-apply for her job through UH as her position was filled by a UH employee as of June 21. Before this, she worked for Student Health for 16 years. 

“We have always been honored to work for Oberlin College, but are thankful that we may still have the opportunity to serve and provide care for our students,” wrote the Student Health staff. “We want to thank our Medical Director, Dr. Tomblin, for all of the guidance and leadership she has provided to our staff, and the exceptional service and care that she has provided to the students of Oberlin College over the past 16 years.”

The College and UH have repeatedly stated that the rest of the staff will be able to reapply for their jobs through UH at comparable salaries and benefits. 

“The staff will have the opportunity to transition to UH if they choose to and meet the requirements for the position,” said Stamatis.

The College declined to speak on the specifics of what the re-employment process will look like. 

“Staff are being given the opportunity to retain employment through the University Hospitals Medical System at a comparable compensation package,” said Special Assistant to the President for Student Affairs Clare Rahm. “For reasons of privacy, I can’t comment further.”

Despite the uncertainty for the staff, both the College and UH anticipate a smooth transition over the next month. 

“The transition should be largely seamless to students and parents,” the College wrote in the Campus Digest. “Student Health fees will not increase, and Obies will continue to receive excellent care on campus.”

Student Health staff also emphasizes how important it is to continue to offer quality care to students during this moment of transition. Despite uncertainty about the future of their jobs, staff have committed to ensuring that students are fully cared for. 

“Our main concern is to continue to provide the best care for our students during this transition,” the Student Health staff wrote. “There are several unknowns at this time and we just want to ask students and parents to please be patient with us as we navigate through these changes.”