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When the Corporation convenes this weekend for its annual February meeting, the conversations may be more serious than usual. With the University's endowment down $740 million since the last fiscal year, Corporation members will gather to vote on a number of proposals aimed at trimming the University's spending. The Organizational Review Committee, which was charged with cutting $14 million from the University's budget for the 2010 fiscal year, has suggested everything from closing the Gate for lunch on weekdays to imposing a fee to support athletics and recreation. Budget cuts are always painful, but there is at least one cut that seems like a no-brainer. The ORC recommended in its Feb. 2 report that the University suspend overnight inpatient care at Health Services. We hope the Corporation will approve the measure.

Inpatient care allows students who are sick — but not necessarily sick enough to warrant a hospital visit — to stay in Health Services overnight under the watch of a nurse. In 2007, an outside consultant suggested that Brown discontinue inpatient services to save money. The consultant also noted that keeping students overnight with staff members who are not trained to offer certain types of care was a major liability. Instead of cutting the clinic right away, the University began to phase out inpatient services in September, closing the overnight infirmary Monday through Thursday. Health Services administrators reported that the change has not affected student access to health care. And given that administrators made this judgment during the peak H1N1 infection period, it seems even more likely that the University can get by in the long term without inpatient services. 

As the University reviews its spending, it is time to complete the phase-out and end inpatient services completely. We know firsthand that it's no fun to be sick in a college dorm room. A roommate might make it hard to fall asleep, and there are no parents around to bring you Tylenol and soup. Students may want to stay at Health Services overnight to get some more quiet time and a little extra care. 

Still, the inpatient clinic is mostly a convenience and not a necessity. Under current policy, students who are seriously ill are taken to the hospital, so they would not be affected by the suspension of inpatient services. The students most likely to feel the effects of the cut are the few borderline cases — those who are too sick to go back to their rooms but not sick enough to go to the hospital. But these cases are problematic in themselves, as the nurse on duty may not be able to deliver appropriate care if the student's condition worsens. 

University officials have declined to say how much money would be saved from suspending inpatient care. However, a student on the ORC student services subcommittee told The Herald last week that the savings made up "a huge portion" of the $500,000 that they were charged with cutting. Health Services will still have physicians, psychotherapists and nurses on call at night, as well as a new overnight nursing triage service. As such, eliminating the inpatient clinic will have little effect on students' access to health care.

In December, President Ruth Simmons warned the Brown community that the University would face "very painful" budget cuts for the coming fiscal year. We hope the Corporation will seize this opportunity to make one cut that won't be painful at all.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.


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