After the Dartmouth College Health Service faced a “200% increase in triage calls” this term, students recounted dealing with long waits times.
College kids getting sick is not a new phenomenon — we live in close quarters, work ourselves too hard and spend our weekends in musty frat basements. This term, the first few weeks were marked with hundreds of Dartmouth students contracting COVID-19. Now, as COVID cases decline, students’ runny noses and coughs remain — in recent weeks, campus has seen an uptick in cases of influenza A.
Being in rural New Hampshire, there are limited options for health care. Griffin Thomas ’24 is unaware of any other medical facility around Dartmouth other than Dick’s House and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Trace Hilbun ’24 notes that — “especially if you don’t have a car” — there’s nothing really around campus other than Dick’s House. Thus, when students feel unwell — whether that sickness is derived from the most recent pandemic or the frat flu — their first resort is usually Dick’s House.
“I always turn [to Dick’s House] first because it always seems to make the most sense to ask them,” Grace Mendolia ’24 said. “They’re right here and should be the most helpful.”
Despite this reliance on Dartmouth College Health Service for medical care, students often find it difficult to get an appointment at Dick’s House. Mendolia and Hilbun have both had experiences where Dick’s House repeatedly did not answer the phone. Additionally, getting in contact with Dick’s House staff does not guarantee an appointment. Last term, India Jones ’25 was able to speak with Dick’s House staff, but was told that the nurses could only give tips on how to deal with her sickness over the portal and “there was no real reason for [her] to come in,” despite being sick for eight out of the ten weeks of the term. Just last week, Mendolia was unable to get tested for the flu or receive flu medicine after speaking with a nurse, even though she had flu exposure and symptoms.
Although last term the earliest appointment he could get for a cough was two weeks after he called, Thomas is consciously aware that “when the campus is overrun with a lot of kids getting sick at the same time … it becomes very difficult to get the help that you need in a timely manner.”
The Dartmouth reported on Feb. 25 that the nursing department saw a more than “200% increase in triage calls in recent weeks,” which may explain the missed calls or the limits on students that physically come in. Moreover, Dick’s House associate director and nurse Daniela Agusti wrote in an emailed statement that, because of the high volume of students seeking treatment for the flu, nurses have been forced to “prioritiz[e] students with urgent needs.” During the month of February, roughly 85% (953 out of 1,111) of visits to Dick’s House were phone visits.
Multiple representatives from the Dartmouth College Health Service did not respond to requests for comment.
Nonetheless, despite being a health service designed to make students feel better, some students feel frustrated with Dick’s House dismissing their sicknesses. Jones felt “exasperated” by Dick’s House in the fall and that, after calling them when she had been sick for weeks and they didn’t do anything, she “felt like they just didn’t really care.” Mendolia feels that Dick’s House “belittles your issues and doesn’t give you adequate help unless it’s a real emergency and you ask multiple times.”
On the other hand, other students have had positive experiences once they were able to secure an appointment. Isabella Morales ’25 noted that the staff was “really nice” and the actual treatment was “pretty good,” but “it was just kind of inconvenient … [and] it was actually getting seen that took the longest.” Thomas has had “fine” experiences at Dick’s House and no real issues once he got in there. Basil Lone ’25 adds that the nurses on-call were “really helpful and just generally really nice people” when she was sick.
However, Morales does clarify that she would not go to Dick’s House if she had a “genuine medical issue.”
“I would probably go to DHMC, because there, I might get seen a lot quicker,” Morales said.
In this same vein, half of the students interviewed have driven to or taken the bus to DHMC after unsuccessfully trying to receive help from Dick’s House. Mendolia sees Dick’s House as just a first step. Some ill students, according to Morales, “don’t even try with Dick’s House because they have heard bad things about it.”
Agusti explained that Dick’s House is affiliated with DHMC and staff can assist with “referrals to DHMC or other community providers for services not available through the Health Service.”
Students have also had trouble reaching the Counseling Center, which is a branch of Dick’s House. The students interviewed that participated in counseling all have had positive experiences with the counselors themselves. However, Morales found the health service portal difficult to navigate and was only able to meet with a counselor because a member of the Class of 2022 helped her with the website. Thomas, a member of the Mental Health Student Union, commented on the potential inconvenience that the Counseling Center’s limited hours might create for students.
“They have eight counselors working during the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift… [but] from my understanding and my own personal experience, crises usually happen when it starts getting dark out, and not when you wake up,” Thomas said.
Both the Dick’s House medical side and Counseling Center are fully open only on weekdays, even though medical and mental difficulties do not cease when classes end. According to Agusti, students who need “immediate medical attention” when Dick’s House is closed are “directed to local urgent care or the DHMC Emergency Department.”
Both Thomas and Mendolia believe there is a “jaded” perception of Dick’s House on campus. Thomas hears “a lot more grumblings” about the health service rather than praise, which is a telling sign to him.
“I have heard some good things,” Morales said. “But, overall, the consensus is that Dick’s House doesn’t really do anything for their students.”