Emerson exploring spring semester partnership with Tufts Medical Center


Domenic Conte

A sign on the window of Emerson’s coronavirus testing site at Tufts Medical Center.

By Camilo Fonseca, Editor-at-large

Emerson is exploring an arrangement with the Tufts Medical Center that would allow students to use Tufts clinical services, as the college’s own health center undergoes restructuring. 

The partnership would provide Emerson students with immediate access to Tufts’ primary and adolescent care facilities. There, students would be able to receive any medical services that are beyond the abilities of the college’s own Center for Health and Wellness, without first having to seek a referral.

Services currently provided by CHW include physical exams, immunizations, and treatment for minor illnesses. Under the partnership, Tufts staff would become “preferred access clinicians” for Emerson students and would directly handle any more serious care.

Should the plan move forward, it would be the college’s second active healthcare cooperation with Tufts. Emerson students undergo regular COVID-19 testing at the Tufts Medical Center facility at 116 Harrison Avenue—just a short walk from campus. 

“Tufts was a natural choice, because we’ve had such a good experience working with them,” Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Jim Hoppe said in an interview. “With the testing center, we’ve built a relationship. They have a better understanding of what we do [at the CHW], we have a better understanding of what they do.”

Hoppe said the college is also considering extending the partnership past the spring semester on a long-term basis, depending on whether students find it beneficial.

The partnership discussions come as Emerson’s own health services face a high clinician turnover rate over the past months. Several staff members who took time off for personal reasons over the summer have since opted to leave CHW permanently, Hoppe said. Jane Powers, director of CHW for the past 23 years, is retiring at the end of December, as is Elise Harrison, director of Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services. 

As a result of Powers’ and Harrison’s departures, college officials are moving forward with a plan to merge ECAPS and the CHW into a new integrated health center. 

Merging physical and mental health offices has become a trend in higher education with schools like Brown University and New York University undergoing similar mergers. 

The merger would create a new Associate Dean of Campus Life who would become the Director of Counseling, Health, and Wellness. 

A search committee including Hoppe, several other college employees, and two students, began interviews with three finalists this week, Hoppe announced in a Dec. 10 email. 

Aside from the vacancies in CHW, Hoppe said the partnership is important from a care perspective. Considering the space and resources available to both, Hoppe likened the difference in services between CHW and Tufts Medical Center to that between a clinic and a doctor’s office.

“At the clinic, you can probably have lab work done, you can have X rays taken, but they might be more limited in what they can do on-site,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe also noted that Tufts Medical Center is open longer than the CHW. While the CHW is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on weekdays, Tufts is open until 8:00 P.M. on weekdays, as well as until 12:00 P.M. on Saturdays.

The partnership was first publicly discussed at a Student Government Association meeting on Nov. 17. Hoppe said certain elements of the arrangement have changed over the course of negotiations.

“Tufts has actually rethought some of the things that might be possible for them,” he said. “We’re back into a general discussion with them, as opposed to a finalization.”

Hoppe said the discussions now center on whether the extension of services to Emerson is practical for Tufts. Like Emerson, Tufts Medical Center is also dealing with shortages in staff during COVID-19.

“Just as we’ve had difficulty attracting candidates for positions open since the summer, in the middle of a pandemic, everyone is having those issues,” Hoppe said. “[Tufts] didn’t want to engage in an agreement where they couldn’t fulfill their obligations. They’re looking at what they can offer. And then we’ll look at how that fits our needs or not.”

Representatives from Tufts Medical Center did not respond to requests for comment.

Hoppe believes the situation should be resolved before the start of the spring semester. He added that the college is looking at other potential health services partners for the same role.

“Student health and well being is a significant priority,” he said. “So we want to make sure that we’re meeting those needs and providing the right kind of services.”