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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis fills gaps in health and wellness policies

Published: October 3, 2014
Section: News

Brandeis’ newly implemented health and wellness initiatives were created to improve deficiencies in specifically lacking areas and have been welcomed by students and faculty as a positive step in increasing emotional and physical support to the Brandeis community.

Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment, announced the changes in an email to the student body on Aug. 21. The new initiatives will provide six main areas of improved service: expanded graduate student services, improved appointment scheduling, new insurance services, billing and electronic records management, increased personnel expertise in targeted areas and a new Rape Crisis Center in addition to expanding sexual assault services and prevention. While these changes are a progressive improvement to the old system, the vast majority of students will not notice many differences in their health care services.

Diana Denning, the nurse manager and administrative director at the Brandeis Health Center, outlined the minimal changes students will undergo.

“The only change students may see is that they should bring their health insurance information with them as you would do at any doctor’s office,” Denning said, and went on to highlight the efficiency of the new system. “More of the appointments will be done on a rolling schedule.”

The changes were inspired by the Hodgkins Beckley report, a critical review conducted by an external consulting agency, which was finished on Oct. 14 of last year. These changes are aligned with the university’s goals set forth in the Brandeis Strategic Plan for “facilitating health living through a community health approach that integrates health and recreation services and organizations across campus.” The university selected Hodgkins Beckley Consulting, which specializes in higher education health care management, to review its administrative systems for the Brandeis Health Center (HC) and Psychological Counseling Center (PCC).

Recommendations for improvements from the report were mainly structural and organizational, and specific praise was given to the “dedicated and skilled professionals” who comprise both the HCand the PCC. The specific concerns of the report were a lack of management structure and efficiency in both centers, inadequate health care access for graduate students, outdated insurance billing, record management and general services and underperformance in the service model of the PCC. The new health and wellness initiatives set to rectify these recently highlighted flaws.

Denning said the new improvements place Brandeis on a more even level with other comparable universities.

“The restructuring of Brandeis’ health services, counseling, athletic services and preventative services as an administrative unit is a common way that universities organize these services,” she said.

The new Health and Wellness Division will be headed up by Sheryl Sousa ’90, director of athletics and newly promoted assistant vice president for health and wellness. Sousa appointed Dr. Michael LaFarr to be the executive director of health and wellness, and he will direct the PCC and HC as well as contribute in a leadership role to Brandeis’ new comprehensive health and wellness model.

Brandeis will continue its successful partnership with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). The university is fortunate that its involvement in the new initiatives eased the transitional process. The implementation of billing and electronic records is a complex change of several systems of operations, and because BIDMC uses these processes already, it was able to offer its services to Brandeis to help with the switch.

Flagel commented that the shift in insurance coverage was negotiated through an insurance broker who helped the university select the best coverage, while adhering to state standards for academic institutions. He believes it has been generally well received.

“The resulting insurance coverage is very similar to that which was provided to students last year, although we were able to bring undergraduate rates down slightly,” Flagel said.

While the Hodgkins Beckley report provided externally generated professional information on the status of the health and wellness programs at Brandeis, the new initiatives were not implemented without the input of the Brandeis community. The Student Health Advisory Committee is made up of members and students selected by the Student Union who review the operation of the Health Center, its relationship with the students, faculty and staff, the insurance plans and the concerns of students. The group meets with the HC during the academic year and advises and assists with ideas, goals and feedback on program development and evaluation.

Kathryn Semerau ’17 believes the student body is lucky the report picked up on the deficiencies in the old system that were only exposed after its publication specifically with the recent Title IX investigation into a sexual assault case here at Brandeis.

“There’s been a lot of allegations about the mishandling of sexual assault cases recently, and I think this is a good but necessary move by the university to correct these past errors,” she said. “I think the response is a testament to the success of student activism, but I also think the university is trying to save face.”

Having started last November, the Office of the Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Specialist, Sheila McMahon, has been relocated to Usdan to allow accessibility and discretion, although she is on academic leave this semesterr. McMahon will help manage and advise the newly established student-run Rape Crisis Center, also located in Usdan. Additionally, the administration has created a new website for the Office of Prevention Services with two new resource guides available to the student body, and last spring the University of New Hampshire’s renowned “Bringing in the Bystander” program trained nearly 50 students in bystander intervention training.

Another promising and necessary change in the new initiatives is the expansion of all health services to graduate students. Before this latest implementation, graduate students at Brandeis did not receive the equivalent health and wellness services, such as health care and counseling, as undergraduates. The student health fee, mandatory for undergraduates, was merely optional before the new initiative. If graduate students did not pay the fee, they would have only had access to the immunization services within the health services department. For all other services they would be charged.

Rob Trenk ’15 believes access for graduate students to health and wellness services should be the same as for undergraduates.

“Graduate students are a part of Brandeis just as undergraduate students are,” he said. “Social justice demands their inclusion.”

With the new changes, the health fee is mandatory for graduate students as well, providing comprehensive coverage for their health care needs. The policy places graduate and undergraduate students on an equal level for health care. Brandeis has the ability to meet the healthcare needs of all its students, including graduate students, as many of its graduate schools have been recently increasing in size.

A detailed report on the health and wellness initiatives can be found on the announcements page on the Office of the Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment on the Brandeis website.