SGA debates health referendum, plans vote for this month

Jefferson Harwood

A controversial health and wellness fee once again dominated the conversation at last week’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting.

The official referendum proposal gave students a much clearer vision of the purpose of the proposed fee increase. According to the proposed referendum, the student fee would increase from its current $4.45 per credit hour, capping at 12 hours ($53.40), to a $95 flat fee for all students in the fall and spring semesters. This fee would be $47.50 for students in the summer semester.

After speaking with the Health and Wellness Center and Counseling Services, the sponsors of the referendum decided the originally proposed $75 fee would be insufficient to pull the center out of debt and provide the services students deserve.

“We are not meeting salary demands,” said Obie Austin, student health administrator at the Health and Wellness Center. The fee increase would allow the center to attract new and quality staff the students deserve, Austin said. 

According to a legislative brief released by the SGA, the new fee would raise a total of $2.2 million dollars versus the current revenue of $1 million. Most of this money would be used to increase current salaries and employ additional staff members.

Gabrielle Stanley, a music education major in her junior year, currently serves as the president pro tempore in the SGA and helped author the referendum.

“This would give the counseling center the ability to hire an on-staff psychiatrist,” Stanley said. A psychiatrist would be able to prescribe psychiatric medications, a measure currently unavailable through UMKC counseling services.

Stanley said the list of improvements does not stop with hiring new staff members. 

“There would be a program for people to get emergency services for mental health outside the hours of the counseling services,” Stanley said. This would give students a 24/7 resource to cope with mental health crises that are not life-threatening.

Some senators expressed their concern with a fee increase almost double the current amount. They felt this drastic increase would deter students from voting in favor of the referendum. Several senators instead suggested an incremental increase of the fee over the next several years.

In response, the SGA plans to send out an email survey to all students to determine their preference in raising the fee.

Trenton Garza, a law student and senator, gave an impassioned speech at the conclusion of the meeting, urging the students of UMKC to educate themselves and grasp the disparity of the current situation.

“Students who are paying into [the Health and Wellness Center] may not even have access because of congestion,” Garza said. 

The fee increase would not only increase the number of staff in the center but extend hours, relieving congestion and providing students with better access to services. 

The SGA is putting the measure, known as The Ables Austin Health & Wellness Referendum, through an expedited approval process to get it on the ballot this month. A complete list of the changes this fee will fund will also be available at the March 9 meeting.

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