Mercy Health Brings Low-Cost Care to YSU Students

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Last summer, the president of Youngstown State University’s Student Government Association, Ernie Barkett, had his third heart surgery.

“I don’t want to say it was a good experience,” he said with a laugh Monday at the grand opening of the new Wick Primary Care office. “But it was a learning experience.”

Growing up, he said, his family didn’t have health insurance and he saw the burden it put on his family. It was with cases like that, he said, that make it so important for YSU students to have the on-campus office, especially considering that it’s just $34 per semester.

“We have a student body that’s a lot of minority students, a lot of underprivileged students. Having something where we can provide great health care, not just low-level standard care, to students is extremely important,” Barkett said. “Having primary care with psychiatry and physicians is going to help student life.”

When Mercy Health made the decision to open the office, among the chief considerations was developing a setting that students would want to use, said Dr. John Luellen, Mercy Health-Youngstown president.

“Making access to care patient-centric is important. Our hospital was built more than 100 years ago and those buildings have served us well,” he said. “But they aren’t necessarily student-centric or patient-centric. Getting people to seek care in an environment that’s welcoming and appropriate really drives the sense of wellness that we want our population to have.”

Getting students through the door in the first place, added Dr. Ashley Baroff-Rufo, is key to improving health for the student body, as well as the rest of the community that uses the office.

It’s about accessibility and making sure that people have a place to come to. We’re open to the community. It’s not just a great thing for students, but for staff, faculty and the community alike,” said Baroff-Rufo, one of the 10 or so doctors that will rotate through the office. “No matter what you do in life, no matter your profession, to contribute to society you need to be healthy in mind and body. You need to prevent diseases and not just deal with them after they happen.”

That low cost of care – the fee covers all services available at Wick Primary Care for YSU students, regardless of insurance – is also key in ensuring access, Luellen and Barkett agreed.

“Health care is readily available in the United States, but in an area like this, cost is the biggest issue. Over 90% of our students have financial aid. Just being able to see a doctor or get prescriptions at that cost is extremely important,” the student body president said. “That $35, the cost of take-out from a chain restaurant, can pay for your health care for a semester and help someone live a healthy life outside of just going to class. This alleviates the stress and burden that college already brings on you.”

Student support for the primary care office has been overwhelming, Barkett said. When a measure deciding whether or not to approve the $34 fee for the center was voted on by students last school year, nine in 10 voted in favor of it, he said.

The move by SGA to help expand health care on campus is just one of the moves to improve the quality of life for students, he added. The university also offers the Career Closet, where students can get clothes to wear to job interviews if they don’t have any, and the food pantry, which this school year added a refrigerator and freezer to expand its offerings.

“We have a space where students get milk, eggs, fresh produce and frozen meals instead of just eating high-sodium, unhealthy diets all day,” Barkett said. “That, again, alleviates some of that stress. You’re already paying for school, paying for rent, so you don’t have to add in that extra cost of groceries.”

Wick Primary Care has four full-time staff, a student employee and 10 doctors of varying specialties that will rotate through the center at the corner of Wick and Lincoln avenues. Among the range of services available are immunizations, sports physicals, nutritional care, gynecological services and psychiatric care.

“For too long, people have drawn a separation between physical health and mental health. We’re trying to break down those walls and see the wellness of the individual front and center. By merging the two, it’s very natural in this setting,” Luellen said.

Prior to Wick Primary Care, the student-health clinic was in Kilcawley Center, where it had been since the 1980s. Mercy Health-Youngstown began operating the clinic in 2016 and last year had more than 5,000 visits.

“On one hand, in dealing with the student population, we see a lot more that’s typical for the age group. There’s less of the chronic diseases here and a lot more preventive and acute care,” said Dr. Jessica Handel, the center’s medical director. “The age of being a college student is the time to take charge of your health and prevent problems that can come down the line. It’s critically important to start thinking about lifestyle habits that can contribute to diseases later and get on the right track.”

Pictured: Pete the Penguin, Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, YSU vice president of student affairs Eddie Howard, Mercy Health-Youngstown President Dr. John Luellen, YSU Student Government Association President Ernie Barkett and Dr. Ashley Baroff-Rufo cut the ribbon on the new Wick Primary Care office. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.