On Feb. 5, Vice President for Student Development Dennis Negrón sent an email to students announcing a free triage service, waived visit fees and the continuation of free COVID-19 testing — all provided at the University Health Center (UHC).
“Our goal is to eliminate any financial obstacles for you to get the health evaluation and care that you need,” Negrón wrote in the email.
UHC Nurse Practitioner Dorinda Harriss said the free triage service was created due to COVID-19 influxes as an additional avenue for students to get help if they feel sick. In previous years, the deans were the primary point of contact for students to report their sickness. However, since the emergence of COVID-19, the UHC has set up a service for students to directly report illness to the health center.
“There’s always a nurse on call. There’s always someone that you can get in touch with if you have to,” Harriss said.
With this semester’s adjustment to the attendance policy, Harriss said students are constantly calling with symptoms of congestion or headaches, or for failed symptom checks with the concern of missing class. Last semester, students were able to miss class due to symptoms or other reasons without an official note from the UHC, according to Harris. But now, the UHC is writing excuse notes for students who call the triage line and report their symptoms.
“The difference is people didn’t have to have a note before,” Harriss said. “So the only thing that has changed is that I have authorized [UHC personnel] to give students a note to excuse [students] for a day if they just have one minor symptom but they don’t really qualify for quarantine. But [students] still need a note so they don’t go to class feeling sick.”
Additionally, UHC fees for visits that are COVID-19 related are now being waived. Harriss said the reason stems from two scenarios: The complications that arise with students who have private insurance, and those who don’t have insurance at all.
“Students who have private insurance have to pay the fees and try to get it billed through their insurance,” Harriss said. “And it can make it really complicated for them, because sometimes they don’t get reimbursed or don’t get it figured out.”
While the university requires all students to have insurance upon registration, Harriss said a lot of students do not answer that question honestly during the registration process. However, despite the lack of insurance, the university doesn’t want students to be a health hazard to the rest of campus in regards to COVID-19.
“We don’t want to create a problem for [students without insurance],” Harriss said. “For some people, they had insurance, and then they lost it because of financial problems, and they didn’t know what to do. [There are] different circumstances. So instead of making it a complication, we just said, ‘You know what, we’re going to see you and take care of you; you’re our student. We’re not going to worry about who’s going to pay for it.’”
According to Harriss, the fees for rapid testing kits are also waived for this semester, which is a change from last semester when not many were available. She added that while the state of Tennessee provides COVID-19 testing kits to the university for free, the rapid testing kits were a significant investment.
“We spent a lot of money on getting some of the top-of-the-line rapid kits,” Harriss said. “The state provides us with the other kits through the local lab for free, and they’re very good. But sometimes we need a rapid kit so we can figure out what’s going on with a student.”
Despite the waived fee for a rapid test kit for Southern students, not every student who requests a rapid testing kit will receive one, as certain criteria must be met beforehand.
“Those rapid kits are only for certain situations, not because of the cost, but because we want them to be accurate,” Harriss said. “Anyone can get a free test, but the nurse practitioners decide which test is best based on [students’] symptoms.”
Harriss encourages students to reach out when they are feeling sick and receive an excuse note from the UHC if needed. The UHC triage line can be reached at (423) 236-2713.