Editorial: Tufts must address deficiencies within health system exposed by pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it continues to highlight issues within the structures of our world, country and university. In particular, the crisis has placed increased stress on health care systems, in turn aggregating the health care disparities prevalent within American institutions. 

Barriers to receiving quality health care in this time of international panic reveal much deeper, institutional flaws of the system, ranging from insufficient resources to deep-seated inequality. Tufts is not immune to these structural deficiencies, for issues in Tufts health care become increasingly apparent in this current state; Health Service only opens its doors for limited hours during the regular school year, and barriers to sufficient mental health care persist. As the virus elucidates these inefficiencies, the university must remain diligent in broadening student access to both physical and mental health services now and for years to come.

While Health Service hours are insufficient during normal circumstances, increased hours prove especially imperative given the current increase in contagion and need for testing, treatment and health resources. The university responded to this need by expanding hours to stay open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., closing from noon to 1 p.m. and on holidays. While we commend Tufts for this act in favor of student wellness, it remains important that these hours continue and Tufts hires more health staff to allow students quick access to health resources in this time of crisis and after its end.

The health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic extend beyond the physical. From the mental anxieties of lacking social interaction to financial insecurity to remaining inside for days, the pandemic has caused countless points of mental strife for Tufts students beyond the fear of falling ill. For some students, these stressors will be life-changing. The crisis could lead to increased symptoms of preexisting psychological disorders, emotionally dangerous situations for those with unsafe home environments and unbearable grief if faced with loss or the need to take care of sick loved ones.

The deficits of the current Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) system prove harmful during this time of need; within Tufts’ current system, the availability of these services fully depends on one’s health insurance. The Tufts health insurance plan provides services such as free teletherapy accounts with BetterHelp and access to UnitedHealthcare StudentResources/Optum in-network providers for $5 copayments. However, students without the university’s insurance may not reap these same benefits, potentially facing higher copayments and bills for counseling sessions depending on their insurance plan. Given the mental hardship associated with the pandemic, these inequalities entrenched within the CMHS system must be addressed to allow for access to the same benefits regardless of insurance plan — a factor heavily influenced by privilege and family income.

Although inflamed by the COVID-19 crisis, Tufts’ health care systems undoubtedly held these deficits before the present crisis, leading to student distress and inequitable access to high-quality medical attention throughout Tufts’ history. While unfortunate, this unprecedented situation provides the university an opportunity to see how its lacking health care systems can and will affect students in the years to come; Tufts must use the present situation as an indication of the intense necessity for improvements. Only by doing so can Tufts prioritize the emotional and physical wellbeing of the community’s core — its students.


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