Past, Present, and Future of the Student Health Clinic
By Matthew Peinado
Walla Walla University offers a broad range of services to improve the overall well-being of their students. Counseling, mentors for freshmen, and the student development center are all free resources provided by the University. In past years, the school has also offered a medical clinic for students. This clinic would triage students who felt ill, had concussions, or other medical conditions that would not require an emergency room. Douglas Tilstra, vice president of student life, and David Iwasa, assistant vice president and dean of students, gave insight to the past, present, and future of the student clinic.
“The Walla Walla University clinic is nonexistent,” said Tilstra. 
The University has run a clinic in various forms for several years. Most recently, the clinic was run in partnership with Providence Saint Mary’s hospital. The partnership lasted from around 2017 to part-way through 2021 when Providence made the decision to not renew their yearly contract. “Last May, we were notified that they would no longer continue the partnership,” said Tilstra. 
The University attempted to get specific answers as to why Providence chose not to renew their contract, but to no avail. Tilstra surmised, “We think that with the way COVID-19 hit businesses so hard that many had to rethink their business models, so did the hospital.” 
When The Collegian tried to contact Providence about the reason for not re-upping their contract with the University, no one was available to comment.
Tilstra wanted it to be clear that there are no hard feelings towards Providence for choosing to leave the University clinic. “Our candor should not be interpreted as trying to throw them under the bus. We are not interested in straining our relationship with our only medical partner in town. The fact that they made a decision to no longer serve us was frustrating… but we hold no ill will,” he said. 
Iwasa added, “They were very nice to work with. I think even the staff felt badly that the decision to leave had to be made. I think it was one of those tough budgetary decisions… That’s very much the impression I got from Providence.” 
While it may be easy to get sidetracked by the unfortunate reality of the clinic’s past and present, Tilstra and Iwasa were both optimistic about its future.
WWU is in the process of negotiating a contract for the clinic with Columbia County System, a hospital in Dayton, Washington. “Our contracts have gone to the attorneys… it’s just waiting for some final tweaking of the contract to get it signed… We expect to have a very similar arrangement with Columbia County health as we did with Providence,” said Tilstra. 
Tilstra and Iwasa both believe that this new partnership will be better for students in numerous ways. While Providence’s clinic was only open during business hours, Columbia County is trying to find student-friendly hours. This could look like opening the clinic at one in the afternoon and closing at eight or nine in the evening.
Columbia County has mentioned Sunday evening hours as well, though that will largely depend on who Columbia County hires to work in the clinic and their availability.
Although none of this is finalized yet, something Tilstra and Iwasa both loved was how Columbia County Health has been consciously looking for ways to make the clinic better for students. “These are ideas they [Columbia County Health] brought up… those were really refreshing conversations to have,” said Tilstra. 
When the clinic is back to being fully operational, Columbia County will make sure there is coordination between the mental health counselors, the clinic, and students who need mental health prescriptions.
Columbia County will also be providing more assistance to the school in COVID-19 protocols, testing, and information. While the Providence-run clinic did assist the school with COVID-19 measures, Tilstra says that there will be improvements with Columbia County.
The clinic will be equipped and able to help walk-in students with nonemergency medical dilemmas as well. With the current state of the pandemic, walk-ins must be preceded by a COVID-19 screening.
Something imperative for students to know is that they must have health insurance. In cases of emergency, they will be treated without insurance, but will end up with a much larger bill. For every student’s own financial well-being, have insurance and be sure it is up to date.
Students should also know that the mental health clinic is separate from the medical clinic. The mental health clinic is open and fully operational. If you are in need of counseling or other mental health resources, please contact them at (509) 527-2147.
1. Interview with Douglas Tilstra and David Iwasa, 10/15/21.
My name is Matthew Peinado. I’m from Portland Oregon and graduated from Portland Adventist Academy. I am an advocate for social and economic justice for all people and I hope that comes through in my writing. I am currently majoring in strategic communications and psychology with the hopes of going to law school after graduation. If any of you feel that you have a story The Collegian needs to share, don’t hesitate to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my personal number, (360) 869-3431.