A demonstrator holds a sign in support of health services. Shaun Lucas / Snapper
Members of the Millersville community gathered on campus last Thursday for a demonstration in protest of the university administration’s decision to consider outsourcing Health Services. This demonstration, attended by dozens of students, faculty, and local activists, occurred in response to the university announcing their consideration of outsourcing healthcare on campus back in August. In the subsequent month, members of the community expressed disagreement with the idea, sparking the creation of an online petition that now boasts nearly 1,500 signatures.
Those present at Thursday’s protest included more than a dozen Millersville students, as well as staff and faculty. The petition and protest also attracted the attendance of media representatives such as local news station WGAL and United Way and labor organizers from the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). Even Izzy Smith-Wade-El, who has been busy on the campaign trail as the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives, arrived in support of health service workers. Demonstrators met in front of the Health Services building, where they made formal statements to the group and the media, and collected signs in support of the workers.
Scott Williams, an organizer for the local chapter of OPEIU, was one of the leading demonstrators for the event.
“Students and alumni have come together to petition in support of nurses here at Millersville for a reason,” said Williams, “more than 1,400 people have signed in response to a request from the university, which would seriously endanger these people’s jobs and their livelihoods. The nurses provide incredible service with everything they can, especially through the pandemic.”
With the possibility of outsourcing still up in the air, an atmosphere of uncertainty lingers in the wind, on campus and beyond. Under the existing health services, students were able to obtain free medications through the in-house pharmacy and, during the pandemic, free rapid COVID-19 testing. The Request for Proposal (RFP), detailing the guidelines for any interested vendors, only requires private practices to provide 70% of the existing services. With this percentage in mind, students and members of the community express concern that these affordable, accessible services may be limited or nonexistent with a private practice in charge of health services.
Olivia Emmett, a senior pre-med major, counts herself among the concerned students.
“The nurses here know us and how everything works around here,” Emmett says, “it’s comforting for students to be able to come here to Health Services, knowing that they are getting free tests and quick results that are not too expensive or far from campus.”
Once Health Services workers arrived, the parking lot between Hash and the infirmary erupted with cheers and applause, giving confidence to the nurses and staff after weeks of worry in anticipation of the proposal’s outcome.
“It’s difficult coming into work every day with the possibility of losing your job looming over your head,” stated Ana Hess, the interim nursing supervisor for Health Services, “we chose these jobs because we are passionate about working with college students … we strive to provide high-quality, accessible, and affordable services to the community that a private practice may not be able to replicate. They can provide at least some of the same services, absolutely, but perhaps not to the same level of commitment and flexibility that we value. Many college students, especially freshmen, are on their own for the first time. They need more time, effort, and dedication from healthcare providers. We want the university to know what we have to offer and that outsourcing would not be ideal for our workers or our students.”
What community members may not be aware of is that this is not the first time that campus services faced potential outsourcing. Last year, the university considered private dining services. However, this plan did not go through. Today, Millersville’s dining remains the only in-house dining hall among the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools. Other services, such as the University Bookstore, were successfully privatized, after outsourcing to Akademos, a private textbook company. Instead of physically shopping for books, students must now order their course materials online. Although Akademos provides high-quality materials, students and faculty both complained that textbooks are more expensive and unreliable in delivering on time.
Shortly after noon, the demonstrators walked over to hand in printed copies of the signed petitions. Two students, Carlton Smith and Bex Shenk, handed these petitions to the President’s Office and to Mary Beth Williams’ office in the Student Memorial Center, respectively.
Williams declined to bring forward President Wubah for comment or discussion, due to his conflicting schedule for the day. However, staff and labor representatives from OPEIU anticipate a discussion with the president in the near future.
Mary Beth Williams, vice president of student affairs, explained in an official statement to the campus community, “as a state university, Millersville University is always looking for ways to give students the best services possible at the lowest cost. The University often requests proposals to determine how services can be offered from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. A Request for Proposal, referred to as an RFP, helps organizations ensure transparency and that tax and tuition dollars are used appropriately. No health services staff have been impacted at this time. The University has acted and will continue to act consistently with the OPEIU collective bargaining agreement.”
The request for proposal closed Tuesday, after which university administrators plan to review and evaluate proposals from interested parties. If a practice or vendor is chosen, the transition to outsourcing will take effect during the 2023-24 academic year.