Under the terms of an agreement approved Monday, the hospital system will receive $380,000 each year to manage student health services at the campus. In exchange, RMC will give the university any surplus money it receives, an amount that is expected to reach $75,000 in the first year.
“What we are trying to do with this is make sure they are a free-standing independent clinic,” said Sam Monk, an attorney for the university.
JSU has been providing free or low-cost health care for students since the 1970s under its existing university-operated system. When the contract goes into effect, the university will relinquish management and control of the health care center to RMC and it will begin charging students for visits.
The university began considering a change to the student health system about four years ago, and the board has since had several discussions about outsourcing healthcare there to a third party.
“I am just proud to see this thing coming to pass,” said board member Randy Jones, who has long supported the change.
Vocal opponents of the change say they worry uninsured students won’t have access to health care once the university starts billing.
In 2011, the university commissioned a study to investigate what impact the change would have on uninsured patients at the clinic. It revealed that all but 20 percent of the 2,100 participants in the study had no form of insurance.
Under the terms of the agreement with RMC, the hospital system will pick up the cost of uninsured students, said Bill Meehan, president of the university. Billing will be for students with insurance only, he said.
“If a student has health insurance, to the extent possible, that anything might be repaid to RMC they will bill insurance,” Meehan said.
He added that the $380,000 JSU will pay RMC to manage the health clinic will be paid for with part of a $150 student fee, which will be charged to students for the first time next year.
Under the new system, RMC will staff the clinic with a physician from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
Currently, JSU contracts with area physicians who spend a few hours at the student clinic each week. As a result, physicians are not available most mornings or on Tuesdays, said Robert Mills, a registered nurse who works at the center.
Mills said he was the only JSU medical employee who was left at the clinic by January. The others left because of the pending change, he said.
That same January, RMC entered into a verbal agreement with JSU to manage operations of the center. Since then, Mills said, the facility has been staffed by contract physicians and RMC nurses.
“It created a tremendous amount of tension,” said Mills, who said he too opposed the change until he met with hospital executives. “I got a better a feel for RMC.”
Now Mills says he hopes to continue working at the student health facility after RMC takes over.
Dr. Michael Herndon is one of the physicians that contracts with JSU for medical services. He said he does not expect to be retained at the university health center, but has not been notified about the hospital system’s future plans.
Herndon, who also owns a doctor’s office in Alexandria, said he has some reservations about the change.
“To me this is not going to be a student health center. It’s going to be an RMC clinic on campus,” Herndon said. “I’m eager to see how it works out. I hope it works out.”
The hospital system will formally take over operations at the student health center on Aug. 10, when the five-year contract begins.
In other business, the board:
• Entered into an agreement with a developer on the possible construction of a 100-room hotel at Little River Canyon. The agreement states that for 90 days JSU will “not solicit, initiate or encourage submissions of proposals or offers from any person, entity or group,” other than New Start Community Development, LLC. to build a 100-room hotel at property JSU owns at Little River Canyon.
The company is exploring the possibility of building a hotel on university property there, where the university also owns a conference center with office space that is shared with the National Park Service.
The developer was the only company that showed an interest in building a hotel when the university submitted a request for proposals for the project, board members said. At the end of the three-month freeze, JSU will have the option to review any proposal the company submits and will not have to accept it, said board member Vivian Figures, who’s also a Democratic state senator from Mobile.
“I think it’s a win-win situation,” Figures said.
• Approved an interim budget for fiscal year 2014. The board passes an interim budget each July because it doesn’t typically meet again until after the start of the fiscal year.
The budget approved Monday includes an increase in state appropriations of about $500,000. But at roughly $35 million, state funding remains significantly lower than in 2008, when the institution received about $39 million, Meehan said.
University officials at JSU have regularly cited declining state appropriation as the cause for increases in student tuition since that time.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.