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  • Robin Linares, Staff Writer

Students navigate flu season through limited Bishop services

Photo by Grace Shiffin

The impact of flu season is being felt more uniquely by Willamette students this fall, as the campus healthcare facility Bishop Wellness Center has been out of commission for much of the semester. 

An increase in illness is not uncommon in the fall, according to Lauren Carlson, a nurse practitioner and the newly hired director of health services at Bishop Wellness Center. “It's that time of year, and we're gathering more indoors, and that is perfect for the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19 and flu,” Carlson said.

Many students have felt the impacts of the commonly known “WU Flu.” Ashlee Dana (‘27) described her experience when feeling under the weather and her attempts to prioritize health and academics. “I didn't feel like I had the time to stay home for a whole day, because a lot of my classes are discussion-based, and so if I missed the class, there wouldn't be a good way for me to make up the content that I was missing,” Dana explained. 

Due to staffing issues at Bishop Wellness Center, many of the on-campus resources have been limited for students. The other form of healthcare available on campus is from Willamette Emergency Medical Services (WEMS), which provides services between Thursdays and Sundays. Ian Thompson (‘26), a WEMS member, noted that while the group hasn’t had many phone calls regarding the flu, there have been a few. "The only kind of calls we've gotten in and around flu season is because Bishop isn't open, so we can serve as an advising role and say, ‘Yeah, you're not going to die,’ or, ‘Yes, let's go to the hospital right now,’” Thompson explained. 

Depending on the severity, students may go to local urgent care centers nearby, which as Lexie Burns (‘25) mentioned, can be more costly and inconvenient compared to on-campus services. “The last time I went to urgent care my parents got billed like $200. And I was like, I don't need them to get billed $200 for [doctors] to tell me to take Tylenol and leave,” Burns explained. “[At Bishop] I've been able to walk in, and it might be like, ‘Oh, we can't see [you] right now but in like two hours we can see you,’ which is totally fine. So it's been relatively quick.”

With Bishop services paused so far this semester, some students have felt disgruntled by the lack of on-campus resources. Dana, while acknowledging how staffing issues contributed to these closures, still expressed her disappointment with the situation. “When I was learning about Willamette, I was under the impression that there would be some sort of on-campus mini market pharmacy with a practicing medical professional able to help with emergencies,” Dana expressed. “So that was definitely a shock and a little bit disappointing.”

Fortunately, with Carlson hired, Bishop is now reopening. Starting Nov. 8, Bishop will be open part time during Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and Fridays for appointments. While Bishop will open full time next semester, these part-time hours will bring back the existing medical services students remember from Bishop in prior years, such as aid with respiratory infections, ankle sprainings, STI screenings and birth control options, and even laceration repair. “I've jokingly said, ‘As long as you don’t come to me with a bone sticking out, [because] I don’t want to see any open fractures,” Carlson mentioned. “But because I've worked in primary care for so long, I'm used to seeing most things.”

Additionally, Carlson noted that Bishop can be a resource for those needing over-the-counter medications as well. “We do have a variety of over-the-counter medications that we can dispense. So as an example, if you're like, ‘Oh, my nasal congestion is driving me nuts,’ we’ll have some medications that we can actually dispense to students and common pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen,” Carlson said.

Furthermore, while the COVID-19 isolation dorms were discontinued this year, Carlson gave some advice for students wanting to avoid spreading common respiratory viruses, including “wiping down surfaces, hand washing and covering your mouth appropriately.” For situations involving COVID, she advises utilizing pandemic procedures like wearing a mask and social distancing. For roommate situations, while there are no longer isolation procedures like earlier in the pandemic, she advises the exposed roommate to follow similar procedures to lessen the spread.

Ultimately, as Bishop starts to reopen, Carlson is excited at the prospect of interacting with students. “I look forward to seeing people in the clinic and out and about on campus as well,” Carlson said. “And I hope that people stay healthy, as healthy as can be.”

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