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Local couple helps students pay their medical bills

Jan. 19, 2011

KALAMAZOO--College students have been hit as hard by the faltering economy as the rest of the population, but a retired Western Michigan University physician is trying to fill a financial gap so their health doesn't suffer.

Dr. W. Bryan Staufer of Texas Township, along with his wife Kathy, have established an emergency assistance fund to help WMU students pay for medical care provided by the University's Sindecuse Health Center.

Since the Bryan and Kathy Staufer Emergency Fund's inception, some 100 students with diabetes, cancer, mental illness and other chronic conditions have received financial support so they could continue pursuing their educational dreams.

"Health costs in general have been going up. I began to realize from personal experience with students that many couldn't afford medicine for their acute short-term needs," Staufer says. "The fund we established isn't for ongoing supportive care. It's for antibiotics, antidepressants and other medications that would cause significant problems if they lapsed."

Staufer, who had maintained a pediatric practice in Kalamazoo for 20 years, joined the Sindecuse staff in 1993 and retired in 2007. He and Kathy donated personal funds in 2005 to start the Staufer Fund.

The fund has been used sparingly, surviving mainly through informal fundraising activities and generous donations by Sindecuse staff members. Now, the health center is launching a more formal fundraising effort and has created a website at wmich.edu/shc/giving to promote donating to the fund.

As economic conditions in Michigan have become more depressed, finding and keeping affordable health care has become more difficult for a growing number of students, says Fran Morrow, Sindecuse director of medical social work.

Morrow says about 15 percent of WMU's students are uninsured or underinsured as a result of the failing economy and unemployment of parents who once were able to afford health care for themselves and their children.

"While financial aid may help cover their expenses for tuition and housing, our students are forced to gamble with their health, as they cannot afford the student health insurance plan," Morrow says. "We know that academic success is directly related to good health. We also know that having a good education is directly related to better employment outcomes in the future. It's our goal to ensure that all students at WMU have access to basic health care at Sindecuse."

Morrow, the health center's full-time licensed clinical social worker, meets with every student who has unmet medical-related financial needs to determine the best possible resources for them on campus and in the community.

"Whenever possible, we access community programs that are available to eligible students and work with pharmaceutical patient assistance programs to obtain free prescription medications for students with chronic health issues," Morrow notes.

"But that isn't always enough. We're hoping to increase the amount of money available in the Staufer Fund so we can help out the increasing number of students who are hurting--financially and medically."

Administered by the Sindecuse medical social work department, the fund covers only medical expenses incurred at Sindecuse, and those receiving assistance pay on a sliding fee scale that includes at least a 25 percent co-payment.

Donations may be made through the WMU Foundation at wmich.edu/foundation by check, credit card or electronic funds transfer.

For more information, contact Fran Morrow in the Sindecuse Health Center at fran.morrow@wmich.edu or (269) 387-4623.

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400