BYU Health Center turns away chronic fatigue patients

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    By ANGELA REEVES

    Last month about 200 BYU students with chronic fatigue syndrome were notified that due to a doctor’s retirement and high costs, they would no longer receive specialized CFS care at the Student Health Center.

    Landon Beales, a recently retired doctor at the Health Center, specialized in treating students with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

    Upon his retirement, Health Center administrators sent letters out to all patients who had been or were currently being treated for these illnesses.

    “We picked out those who had been identified with chronic fatigue syndrome in a diagnosis in at least one visit and we tried to cover as many people as we could,” said Rulon Barlow, director of the Student Health Center.

    The letter reads, in part: “We wanted to formally notify you of Dr. Beales’ retirement … Upon his retirement, the Health Center will no longer be in a position to provide any form of parenteral (I.V. or injections) therapy for treatment of CFS … Given the difficult task we already have of trying to keep the cost of student insurance premiums at a reasonable level, we cannot in good conscience pursue the addition of an expensive new service.”

    Beales said he had no knowledge of the letter before it was sent out and expressed concern for students who would no longer receive the care they needed.

    “I’m embarrassed by the Health Center. I apologize,” Beales said. “They really don’t know what they’re doing (by sending patients away), and it’s tragic when they don’t want to correct the problem or learn anything about it and try to provide a service that is desperately needed.”

    But Barlow said there are other ways to treat patients with these illnesses.

    “I think there are other ways of treating it. Each of the physicians here has an approach they use for treating fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue,” he said.

    Amy Lane is a former patient of Beales. She was diagnosed with chronic fatigue in 1994 and fibromyalgia the following year. She said she was the first to receive the two-hour I.V. treatment through Beales.

    “The treatment almost guaranteed me a good day,” Lane said. “After the I.V. was in for 30 minutes the pain was already better.”

    Lane said she feels the Health Center does not recognize chronic fatigue as a legitimate medical illness.

    “I have this strong feeling because of the tone of the letter that they’re not giving the illness any credit and therefore they’re not giving the patients who suffer from the illness any credit,” she said.

    Beales also said the letter was ill-conceived on the part of the Health Center, and damaging to students who suffer from debilitating illnesses.

    “It was basically demeaning to the students who are ill with this … saying they aren’t really ill, that they don’t deserve any attention, that their illness is benign and inconsequential and that they would no longer recognize it as credible,” Beales said.

    Barlow, who has been an administrator at the Health Center since February, said Beales’ treatments were “experimental” and could no longer be provided under the Student Health Plan.

    “We have ruled out an approach that is so unique that nobody else is doing it and nobody else has experience with it,” Barlow said.

    But Beales said doctors at the Health Center were competent enough to treat patients with chronic fatigue if only they would take an interest in doing so.

    “It’s not that hard if they would take the time to learn,” Beales said. “The tragedy is nobody wants to learn and they’re not interested in treating it.”

    The letter said the I.V. treatments were too expensive to continue under the Student Health Plan. However, according to Beales, all together it costs less than $10 per treatment.

    Barlow said he could not produce numbers about the costs of the treatments.

    “I don’t have specifics on all of the costs,” he said.

    The Student Health Plan is provided through Deseret Mutual Benefits Association, and currently Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia are not included or excluded as covered illnesses by DMBA.

    So patients may still be able to receive the care they once had outside the Health Center. However, David Call, vice president of welfare benefits at DMBA said even if patients received a doctors referral it is unlikely they would be fully covered in the end.

    “If a physician were to approve that and the Student Health Center policies backed it up it could be covered, but frankly I doubt that it would be,” Call said.

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