Vision of Neighborhood of Health at Iowa State being evaluated


Photographer: Alec J Giljohann

The Thielen Student Health Center is one of many resources on campus available to students. 

Emma Finn

With 36,321 students enrolled at Iowa State this fall, campus is packed with students at any given time, especially in the Thielen Student Health Center.

Located across the street from State Gym, the Student Health Center has had an increased number of students to serve over the years. In 2009, the Student Health Center came up with a master plan that reviewed the health center and recommended it double in space.

To compare how much the school has grown during the review, the Student Health Center had around 25,000 annual patient visits and 145,000 annual lab tests. In 2017, it has had 34,682 patient visits and 232,836 lab tests.

The number of students on campus have increased dramatically over the past eight years, but the Student Health Center’s size has stayed the same. Erin Baldwin, director of the Student Health Center, described a vision the school has to expand the Student Health Center and relocate Student Wellness so all of the student body’s health needs would be a one-stop shop. 

“Our biggest concern is how can we best serve our students,” Baldwin said.

The department recently received approval to do a feasibility study for the potential new Health and Wellness Services building.

The idea to expand the Student Health Center actually derived from student feedback and ideas. Overall, the big picture is to bring Thielen Student Health Center, Student Counseling Services and Student Wellness into a combined building that will be in close proximity to State Gymnasium and Recreation Services.

“We are simply just running out of space here with all of our providers,” Baldwin said. “We are having to make office spaces a third of the size just to fit everyone.” 

With a school the size of Iowa State, there are benchmarks provided by national health associations for best staffing practices at large schools. These benchmarks show that Iowa State could use more healthcare providers.

According to the American College Health Association, the best practice for 36,000 students is 15 primary full-time care providers, while Iowa State only has 11. It is also recommended by International Association of Counseling Services that a school this size have 24 counselors, while Iowa State only has 16.

Although some believe the expansion is needed now, it is a lengthy process with many steps. This process comes down to figuring out a plan, coordinating with the capital planning committee, figuring out the cost, finding funds and fundraising. Once all of those steps are completed, building for the expansion can begin. 

Not only would this be a plan for expansion overall, but it would create a “neighborhood of health” among the Student Health Center, Student Wellness and Recreation Services.

“This way whether a student has a sore throat or needs to talk to someone, everything they need is in one area,” Baldwin said.

In December, the architects will present a conceptual plan to the steering committee and the ISU Capital Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC), according to the health center, to determine if the project can take place. 

Student Wellness is currently located in Friley Hall, somewhat of a hidden location for students wishing to access it. The vision for the neighborhood of health aims to combine all three aspects of student health (Student Health Center, Student Wellness and Recreation Services) and making these services easier and more appealing to students.

Editor’s note: This story was been updated on Oct. 19, 2017 to clarify that the Neighborhood of Health is a vision rather than a plan and is currently in the stage of a feasibility study and evaluation.