Bon Secours Mercy Health Changes Position on Reproductive Care Services

The Student Health Center welcomes a new health care provider. (Photo by Abe Frato, Photo Editor)

Last week, Bon Secours, the parent company of the College’s new health care affiliate Harness Health Partners, announced it will not provide students with certain reproductive and gender-affirming health care services. The health care affiliate had previously agreed to do so. After a June announcement of a new partnership, HHP began operating the College’s Student Health Center in July after the College ended its contract with University Hospitals.

The June 8 Campus Digest email announcing the change in health care affiliates cited student feedback as the reason for the change in providers. According to Vice President and Dean of Students Karen Goff, the most common complaints in the past year from students about Student Health Services included long lines to see providers and confusion due to having two different providers for the College’s COVID-19 testing and general Student Health Services. HHP has managed the College’s COVID testing program for most of the pandemic, while UH provided general health care in Student Health.

“Based upon that feedback and our own evaluations, Oberlin decided to pursue a new partnership,” Goff wrote in an email to the Review.

Goff also referenced another factor in switching providers — that the College could not obtain certain COVID services from UH at the time. Additionally, Goff noticed that UH lacked specific college health experience.

“Just [from] meeting regularly, it became apparent that in the area of college health, there wasn’t a lot of experience from the department in that area,” Goff wrote.

According to previous Clinical Coordinator of Student Health Services Erin Gornall, UH informed the staff of Student Health Services that the College would end its contract with UH in late May. Although the Student Health staff at the time was employed by UH, several members had been College employees before the College outsourced Student Health Services to UH in July 2021. Gornall had worked for Student Health for over six years at that point.

“We waited to hear from the College, because we were College health employees before being UH [employees],” Gornall said. “We were just hoping that maybe the College is taking us back or something.”

Although the June 8 Campus Digest email stated that the staff working in Student Health Services would have the opportunity to apply for positions with HHP, Gornall and previous Student Health Services Women’s Health Specialist Aimee Holmes never received additional details about these applications from the College or HHP.

Doris Jankovits, a previous Student Health Services family health nurse practitioner, sought out the opportunity to apply for a position with HHP in Student Health to continue working at the College. Although she interviewed for a position, she was ultimately rejected. Reasons for her rejection were explained in an email from Deb McCarthy, a recruiter for physicians and advanced practice clinicians at Bon Secours.

“They felt you were not well-aligned with the culture of the ministry of Bon Secours Mercy Health, and may not have been happy there long term; which is what we would want for any of our providers,” McCarthy wrote.

Goff emphasized that the previous Student Health staff were employees of UH and that they were not employees of the College, though Gornall contested this categorization. “For the past year we were University Hospital employees,” Gornall wrote in an email to the Review. “Maybe in the eyes of an administrator, it is easy to dismiss us as such. However, when you look at how long we have all been with Student Health, most of us were College employees prior to becoming UH [employees].”

Holmes, who had worked at Student Health for over seven years, reflected on her disappointment about not continuing her position.

“We’re still not over this,” she said. “We’re still dealing with how we feel about it. We’re honestly sad. I loved my job. It was the best job I’d ever had. I never planned to leave. I would stay there till I retired. But now I don’t have that choice.”

Last week, another email from the Office of the President informed the community that HHP would no longer prescribe contraceptives for the explicit purpose of birth control or implement gender-affirming care. According to Goff, HHP agreed in its official contract with the College that it would provide these services.

“Harness Health Partners assured us both verbally and in writing that they would provide a wide range of services — LGBTQ, sexual, and women’s health, including but not limited to the prescription of birth control and other forms of contraceptives,” Goff wrote. “The signed agreement also included continued medical care of previously established plans for gender- affirming care.”

Last week’s email from the Office of the President also announced a partnership with another health care affiliate who would provide these services: Family Planning Services of Lorain County.

“While we were disappointed by this change so soon before the start of the semester, we quickly moved to ensure the needs of our students would be met without interruption,” President Carmen Twillie Ambar wrote.

According to the email, FPSLC has previously supplemented Student Health Services and conducted sexually transmitted infection testing clinics on campus. FPSLC will begin providing students with gender-affirming care and reproductive healthcare services on campus, “including offering contraception, STI testing and treatment, PrEP and PEP for HIV prevention, Pap exams, and dispensing reproductive health contraceptives and medication such as Plan B on campus,” President Ambar wrote.

FPSLC will operate out of the Student Health Center three days a week, and on the four days when FPSLC is not operating on campus, the College will provide transportation to FPSLC. According to Goff, FPSLC will provide telemedicine services to students, and the College will also have an independent nurse practitioner on site.

“Oberlin is committed to the health and total well-being of all of our students,” President Ambar wrote. “This commitment requires that we provide a high level of care across a wide scope of services, including reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care.”

Harness Health Partners declined to comment on these matters and requested that questions be directed to the College.