Wellness revealed

Glass walls and pleasing aesthetics welcome students at new health center

With its soothing interior colors, lush plants, comfy seating and walls of windows that afford a panoramic view of the center of campus, the University of South Carolina’s new student health center might become the next cool place for students to hang out.

If that happens, Debbie Beck will be more than a little pleased. As executive director of student health services, Beck wants USC students to embrace the building’s vibe of wellness and health promotion, which she helped orchestrate with the building’s architects.

“We want this new building to be welcoming,” she says. “All of the colors inside have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. And the live plants and nature graphics give the feel of being outdoors while you’re inside.

“I’d love to see students cut through this building on their way across campus and just absorb the wellness messaging on the walls and wellness activities taking place like the demonstration kitchen for healthy cooking.”

All of which is to say, the new Center for Health and Well-Being isn’t your grandfather’s college infirmary. The 68,000-square-foot building replaces the adjacent Thomson Student Health Center, which has served the campus for the past 45 years. That building will be renovated — it already has a new roof and windows — and will become the new home for student counseling and psychiatry services as well as peer educators and the Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention.

“Thomson has large offices, which will be perfect for counseling,” Beck says. “Mental health is one of our primary concerns. Lots of studies have shown that stress and anxiety affect student success and retention.”

Color schemes and furnishings from the new building will be matched in the old one, and a covered corridor connecting the two facilities will provide convenience for students.

As part of a holistic approach to health care that is part of the center’s patient-centered medical home accreditation, students are automatically screened for signs of depression. Those who score high are seen by a behavioral health specialist, while others with high blood pressure or weight issues are introduced to a dietician or wellness and fitness staff.

As the size of the university’s student body has increased in recent years, the health center staff has grown accordingly and now includes 14 board-certified physicians, about a dozen nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, and a similar number of registered nurses. The new center has 32 examination rooms for primary care visits, 12 rooms for women’s health and eight more for physical therapy and sports medicine. An optometry shop will open later in the academic year.

“At the full height of the fall and spring semesters, we see as many as 500 students per day,” Beck says, “and our colleagues at other universities tell us to expect a 25 percent increase in visits with the new building.”

Beck says she wants students not only to check out the new building but also stop by to meet a health care provider — each student is assigned to a physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant.

“We want the students to trust us and for their parents to trust us,” she says. “For students who might be away from home for the first time, we want them to feel safe and welcome when they’re coming in for the first time.

“And we will work with their own home physician — send them notes after a visit here, and their physician can share information with us.”

The health center offers the same comprehensive services that any large family practice provides, Beck says, including casts for broken bones, stitches, and treatment for asthma, colds and flu and similar ailments. The center also has the advantage of an in-house X-ray lab and pharmacy. Operating hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2-8 p.m. on Sundays.

With the medical and counseling staff ready to serve, Beck is looking forward to welcoming students back for the fall semester. And the shiny new health center will make that an enjoyable task.

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