Board approves partnership with Northwestern Medicine to assume management of Health Services


Board approves partnership with Northwestern Medicine to assume management of Health Services

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB — Thursday, the Board of Trustees approved the proposed partnership with Northwestern Medicine, to undertake operational responsibilities of Health Services as early as January.

Northwestern Medicine assumed responsibility of NIU athletics’ medicine services July 1, and negotiating for the growing partnership with Northwestern Medicine was announced in a June 7 official letter of intent.

The proposed partnership recently incited reactions across campus, some centered around incorrect information provided by a private petition. On Nov. 5, Prism of Northern Illinois University used their Facebook page to share a petition titled “Women’s health at Northern Illinois University at Risk.” The petition, which was created Nov. 5, had 477 electronic signatures as of 9 p.m. Wednesday, which increased to 511 by 11 p.m.

Shane Bowers, graduate teaching assistant for the School of Art and Design, created the petition through The petition claims the partnership will dissolve women’s health resources currently available through Health Services, and the proposal is mostly being presented as a great benefit for student athletes. It also states more than half of the current Health Services’ staff will be laid off.

Of the women’s health services students will no longer receive, the petition lists: colposcopy, Depo-provera injections, IUD,Condoms , Nexplanon, birth control pills, diaphragms, Nuva Ring, pregnancy tests, Plan B, Pap smear and STI testing.

In an interview with the Northern Star, Bowers said he had been notified of the change-over by some of the staff at Health Services, as someone who uses the services himself, and he believes it is because he was not afraid to have a voice on this issue.

“Every time somebody signs the petition it goes directly to Lisa Freeman’s dropbox and that is a legally signed petition that goes to her, and it’s supposed to petition against this decision,”: Bowers said.

Bowers said he found it interesting to find information about the partnership which was not included in the letter of intent. He said a lot of students wouldn’t know about the changes to result from this partnership unless they somehow found the documents.

“The student body, I think, is vital for things like this. Things happen or things get change-over and we’re not initially asked about what the student body needs,” Bowers said.

The petition also touches on the need for women’s health services for not only women, but transgender and nonbinary individuals.

Bowers said as a transgender male he uses Health Services for hormone testing, and the proposal will eliminate an on-staff gynecologist, stating a general practitioner would do everything. He said a concern comes from the fact that these individuals will not have gone through Ally Training.

The Ally Program, run by the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, creates a supportive network of allies, who advocate for the LGBTQ community and work to educate and build connections with the larger campus community, according to its webpage.

Bowers also said he thinks it’s unfair for the student body to not be able to weigh into the decision-making process, because these changes directly affect the students.

“The student body should have a voice before a change-over like this happens, because we’re the ones that are affected,” Bowers said. “The reason everyone has jobs is because the students are here, and grad students are here, you know we should be able to have a little bit of weigh in on these [services] are needed or not needed.”

Mike Stang, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, said when the university officials began considerations for partnering with Northwestern Medicine, they made certain the list of services provided through the current Health Services model would remain available to students.

The current services offered include things like athletic physical exams, women’s health services, headaches, etc.

Stang said the only service to no longer be available through the partnership is the colposcopy, a women’s health service, which is currently offered two to three times a year, but officials had already planned to eliminate the service due to its infrequency.

Sarah McGill, vice president of administration and finance, said the colposcopy was not something covered through student fees, instead students were required to use their health insurance.

“I think the real idea is there’s this list of services, and that was where we started the conversation was, ‘Can you do all of these things?” because we didn’t want to lose any of the services we’re providing now,” Stang said.

Stang said if Northwestern Medicine could not match what was provided under the current Health Services’ model, the conversation of partnership wouldn’t have continued.

McGill said the partnership will result in Northwestern Medicine becoming the provider for the staffing and operational support of Health Services, but the center will still very much be NIU’s. She said if a service is no longer working or if students are in need of a service, the new model provides the flexibility to implement changes. She also said the proposal includes built in reviews and meetings for NIU to remain transparent and to hold both parties accountable.

Stang said the partnership is not going to be “one-and-done;” there will be a governing group and regular meetings with Northwestern Medicine representatives to assess what services students need or don’t use. He said it will be an evolving agreement, which he feels with offer better service than when Health Services is operating independently.

“This is a relatively new initiative that I think we intend will put us on the cutting-edge of being able to offer these services to students,” Stang said. “I don’t know that it’ll be true to say no one else does that, but it’s not a very common model and we’re very excited on trying to make this an effective model, and they’re excited about that too.”

“This is a relatively new initiative that I think we intend will put us on the cutting-edge of being able to offer these services to students,” Stang said. “I don’t know that it’ll be true to say no one else does that, but it’s not a very common model and we’re very excited on trying to make this an effective model and they’re excited about that too.”


If the Board approves Northwestern Medicine to become the student health care provider on campus, the center will undergo change, but not changes surrounding the services offered.

McGill said under Northwestern Medicine’s management, Health Services will gain an expansion in operating hours to provide students with more convenient access and scheduling flexibility, as well as offering walk-ins. She also said currently, students in need of urgent care typically have to leave campus, but this issue should be eliminated under the new management.

“I think just given what Northern does, there’s no way we can match the prestige that a Northwestern has; they’re one of the top providers in the region, and for our students to have access to that level of medical care, for us, it’s a real advantage,” McGill said.

Stang said through the program prioritization process the university released a request for a proposal for this kind of partnership sometime around January 2017 and again in June 2017, but did not identify a partner. He said as he understood it, there was a re-established procurement code which allowed for the university to negotiate with a health care provider directly.

He also said at the time the athletic agreement came up, it made sense to try for further collaboration with Northwestern Medicine.

McGill said under the new model student fees for Health Services will decrease from $7.88 per credit hour, to $7.49 per credit hour.

Stang said it doesn’t sound like a lot, but multiplied by 15,000 students it becomes a substantial amount saved which will then return back to students and produce decreasing fees.

McGill said the partnership is fiscally responsible; offering better service at a lower cost. She said Health Services’ operations currently cost the university $2.7M per year, but under Northwestern, operating costs will be $2.3M. She said the breakdown allocates $1.9M of the $2.3M to Northwestern Medicine for its service and $400,000 to remain with NIU.

Stang said a portion of those funds will go toward running operations of the student health insurance office and immunization tracking because they are state mandated, university responsibilities.

“We are committed to the health and wellness of our students,” McGill said.

McGill said an aspect of the partnership she is especially excited for is the pilot program to be initiated beginning in the 2019 academic year. She said the program will allow students in the downtown Chicago and Naperville areas to use the Northwestern Medicine centers there.

She also said Northwestern uses a program called Epic which is the cutting-edge technology for holding and transferring medical records. Epic is a system which allows access to medical records, and patients can register for appointments online.

Stang said Health Services already refers patients out, but information from exams and medical records will transfer directly with the referral. He said when referred somewhere else students have to start over with basic tests and exams, but Epic will allow for a better hand-off for students if they choose to go to a Northwestern Medicine center.

“I think there’s a different level of training and expertise that would come in that is more flexible for the type of population and the services [Northwestern Medicine] offers,” McGill said.



In a partnership where an outside party assumes operations of something like Health Services, it is common for the partner to become responsible of staffing, just as Follett did upon taking over the campus bookstore June 4. Similarly, Northwestern Medicine officials will be able to staff Health Services as is preferred to them.

McGill said the staffing size will change because of Northwestern’s network which will allow the leveraging of local expertise surrounding radiology services and things of that nature. She said currently, with NIU running the clinic, officials have to staff for days-off, but through Northwestern Medicine’s network it can be staffed with individuals with a wider range of what they can practice.

“Currently we do have an OBGYN that provides services in support of women’s health; those same services still will be provided, but they’re going to be provided by a different provider like a family practitioner or an advanced nurse practitioner,” McGill said.

McGill said this model is common in other types of clinics where the generalized practitioner sees the patient, but they see an OBGYN for special cases and needs. She said the services committed under the student fee will continue being offered, but the provider will be different.

Stang said instead of having those types of specialists on staff, Health Services’ will have more generalist employees who are able to provide a variation of services.

NIU Spokesperson Joe King said through research he and others found only two other Illinois universities offer a gynecologist on their health services’ staff: the University of Illinois, which King said is notably larger than NIU, and Illinois State University.

Stang said the current Health Services’ staff was made aware of the potential partnership prior to the release of the letter of intent. He said university officials have met with staff about once a month with updates since its release.

“We’ve worked very diligently,; [sometimes] in a group, and then, when you get to a certain point, kind of individually with each staff member to work through their individual situation and to try to help them with whatever their next steps are going to be,” Stang said.

Stang said some staff members are going to lose their jobs, but they’ve worked the timeline out to get staff through the holiday season, extending some member’s employment throughout January.

He also said about three weeks ago Northwestern Medicine conducted interviews with current staff members interested in assuming a position following the takeover. He said some staff members have been offered tentative positions, and others officials have worked with through job coaching. Some staff will be retiring and others have retreat rights to previous positions they held on campus.

“I think we’ve worked as much as we possibly could to try to really help the staff understand what we were doing and why [and] to try to help them figure out what their options were and to try to help to prepare them for whatever those options were,” Stang said.