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SUNY Potsdam health center cuts back as college slim-down continues

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POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam wants to erase its $2.4 million budget deficit within the next two years, and while the college promises to maintain quality and avoid layoffs, students already are feeling the effects.

The campus health center recently sent out an email saying it no longer will be able to offer weekend hours. Prescriptions that were once free will now come with a $5 copay, with the exception of Plan B.

According to interim college President Dennis C. Hefner, the decisions were not made because of any recent changes to the budget. The college’s budget was set in August, and has not been altered since.

“This is just them adjusting to budget realities,” he said.

The center has not been offering weekend hours for long. The program began just over a year ago.

“While this program has been a success, Student Health Services can no longer afford the additional staff to run it,” Dr. Richard E. Moose, center director, said in the email to campus. Students who need immediate medical attention are encouraged to go to the after-hours clinic in Canton or Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

Dr. Moose declined a request for an interview.

The email also warns students that there may be a longer wait for appointments. One of the campus medical providers resigned to take a job off campus, and a soft hiring freeze means the center must wait at least six months before hiring a replacement.

In case of an emergency, departments may request an override on the hiring freeze. The health center has not applied for such an exemption, Mr. Hefner said.

So far, 18 positions are being left open under the hiring freeze, which Mr. Hefner views as a stopgap measure until more permanent budget cuts can be made.

He plans to cut about 3 percent of positions by the start of the July 2015 budget year, he said. This means 20 to 30 jobs, none of which will be cut through layoffs, he said.

Instead, the college plans to eliminate vacant positions and reassign some non-vital staff members to other jobs.

“We can do it through attrition,” Mr. Hefner said.

So far two positions have been cut, with many more cuts on the way.

“”We’re just getting started,” Mr. Hefner said.

The budget likely will receive a much-needed boost next year. Early enrollment projections are much higher than initially expected, after lackluster numbers this year. While declining high school enrollment rates mean the school still won’t have as many students as it did a few years ago, the number of applications already received indicates the college will start bouncing back next year.

Tuition also will rise by $150 a semester in 2014, a long-planned increase that will provide additional financial support.

Mr. Hefner said he plans to leave his successor with a budget that is well on its way to being stable. The college plans to choose a new president before July.

“I think they’re going to be in a good position to move the campus forward in the future,” he said.

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