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Health care inequality plagues UC Berkeley

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SEPTEMBER 19, 2014

As someone cited in the recent article by Katy Abbott about the Tang Center dropping Health Net for staff and faculty, I wish to respond from the staff perspective. I think it’s difficult for any reporter to capture the depth and critical impact of the decision on the lives of the affected people, both as patients of the University Health Services and as dedicated members of the UC Berkeley community.

I don’t personally know the hundreds of affected faculty and staff, but I can, in some small way, speak for them by speaking for myself. I have been a patient at UHS for 15 years and with UC for more than 25. I stay not for the salary, but for what this campus means to me. It is a special place with a unique and proud history and a perspective that relishes in the rights of the individual and the power of speech. Students, faculty and staff are integral to the strength and reputation of this university and should be equally supported in all manner possible. We are this campus.

Sad to say, but not all health care is created equal. As befitting a university of this caliber, the care offered by the UHS is exceptional because the medical personnel are dedicated and caring. One’s relationship with his or her doctor is tantamount to the value of that care. It takes years to develop the trust, the confidence and the numerous intangible elements that create a solid relationship. A diploma on a wall isn’t enough. It’s a two-way street — as the patient learns to trust the doctor, the doctor learns about the whole patient, facilitating the value of the care. This quality relationship can save your life. I know, because it saved mine, and its loss is beyond measure.

I understand Dr. Brad Buchman’s emphasis on student care. That’s how it should be. I don’t wholly blame the UHS for this decision — we’re all limited by our resources. He states it was a mutual decision with campus. I accept that, but I’ve accumulated many years in the UC system and have witnessed the expectation placed on departments to meet campus agendas.

If the current UHS infrastructure cannot support the UC community, it is the moral responsibility of this administration to build it. If the university can commit millions for projects such as a new stadium, are there not resources to ensure affordable and quality healthcare for staff and faculty at the UHS? The value of this is incalculable. The article refers to the small patient base. There’s a good reason for this — the UHS option is one of the best kept secrets at open enrollment. I only learned of it because I did extensive research when looking for a primary physician. Staff typically choose Health Maintenance Organizations because they can’t afford Preferred Provider Organizations, and it’s slim pickings out there. What I discovered was that the best of the best was in my own backyard. We all contribute to the excellence of UC Berkeley, so why can we not all benefit from that excellence?

In writing to the Regents’ Committee on Health Services, Peter Cataldo states that “affordable and accessible health care has been at the forefront of this nation” and that “this decision to stop providing services to over 400 faculty and staff is counterproductive not only to this national effort but also to our university’s mission.”

I don’t doubt that healthcare today is complex and the intricacies of operating a healthcare facility infinite, but I do not believe there are not options to pursue so that the UHS can continue to provide its exceptional and affordable care to all UC members. Our university is rich in intelligence and conviction, and surely we have the means to make this a reality.

Vicki Savitt is an academic personnel analyst at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

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SEPTEMBER 19, 2014