April 19, 2012

After $1 Million Donation, Gannett Looks for Permanent Funding

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The University is working to find a permanent source of funding for the Gannett Health Center in order to avoid a significant reduction of its funding at the start of Fiscal Year 2013-14.

After a string of student suicides, in March 2011, Gannett received a funding increase of $1 million through a combination of one-time alumni donations and internal University funding. The University used $200,000 of this funding increase –– which was intended to improve Gannett’s mental health services –– to restore positions that had been cut from Gannett during the financial crisis, according to Greg Eells, director of counseling and psychological services for Gannett.

“At the time, we were planning on outsourcing our after-hours service because of budget cuts. We were actually cutting — planning on cutting therapist positions, reducing our after-hours service availability. So part of the money was to restore those cuts,” Eells said. “We added six therapists [but] some of that was restoring two therapists we were planning on cutting.”

As the money from these donations runs out, Gannett must find a stable source of funding. It must also meet a rise in demand for its health services, according to Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services.

“The explicit challenge is how to maintain that level of funding … [and] anticipate continued growth in demand … particularly if health care reform continues to advance as we think it is and you want to provide parity of medical health and mental health as we do,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the University must take into account both the rising costs of health care –– and the subsequent increase in student financial aid to cover these costs –– when seeking a permanent source of funding for Gannett.

“We know we need to bring in some additional revenue, because you can’t rely on these one-time funds all the way along … Once you begin to do that, how do we make sure we’ve got the cost — the revenue stream as well to cover the financial aid, so that isn’t a barrier?” Murphy said.

One possibility the University is exploring, Murphy said, is charging students a health fee, folded into their semesterly tuition, to use Gannett’s services. This would replace the per-visit fees that some students — who are not covered by Cornell’s student health insurance plan or another carrier that waives them — must pay, she added.

“We know many of our peer campuses have health fees that are part of their funding streams,” Murphy said. “That isn’t how we do at Cornell right now and so that’s certainly something we are trying to take a look at to see if there’s a model there that makes sense for us.”

However, Murphy said the health fee might not be implemented.

Citing increasing demand for its services, Gannett is also considering constructing a new building. The idea was originally introduced in 2007, but was indefinitely postponed in 2008 due to the financial crisis, The Sun reported in March.

Although the University has yet to approve any plans, Murphy said she hopes the new facility will be open by 2018.

“The vision is an expanded facility,” Murphy said. “We can document that we are well beyond the capacity of that building.”

David Marten contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky