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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Union calls for Health Center review

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: Front Page

In response to student complaints over several years, the Student Union is advocating for a comprehensive review of the health center’s performance before the center’s contract is reviewed.

Union Director of Executive Affairs and Chair of the Health Center Advisory Committee, Jess Blumberg ’09 explained that contract negotiations between Beth Israel Hospital and the university were set to happen last summer but were postponed. Because contract negotiations have not yet begun, “this is the best opportunity to see concrete changes,” Blumberg said.

As such, “it’s in the university’s best interest to hire [a professional] to conduct a review” of the health center in order to determine whether the university should call for changes or change service providers entirely, Blumberg said.

Last academic year, the Health Center Advisory Committee “tried to make headway” collecting data on student opinion, Blumberg explained. The committee’s main goal at the time was to “get as much feedback as possible” and “distill down what the main issue is,” she commented.

In order to collect feedback, the committee focused on surveys. Every year, Blumberg said, the health center conducts an electronic survey. Blumberg explained that she was “surprised” that students even finished the survey because of its length and structure. The committee hoped to reorganize and restructure the survey in order to improve the quality and reliability of the data collected.

Health Center Director Kathleen Maloney “listened to us,” Blumberg said, but the electronic survey did not include the committee’s suggested changes.

The committee also “put together an outpatient survey” for students to complete after a visit. The health center “took it and changed a lot of it,” Blumberg remarked. While the committee’s original survey may have been biased against the health center, Blumberg added, the final version was “just as biased in favor of the health center.”

The advisory committee never received the data from the outpatient survey, Blumberg said.

Maloney said that in order to solve problems, “we need to not focus on who said what [last year]. We need to move past that.” She added that “we need to get past the survey.” “For me as a director,” she said, “if two people are unhappy or 200, it doesn’t matter…someone’s unhappy. We need to solve it.”

Last spring, the Union held a forum on the health center. While Blumberg said she was disappointed by the small turnout, “we got really good feedback.”

Blumberg and her committee then started a Facebook group for students to deposit their complaints. “So many students don’t go to the health center administration to complain,” she remarked, and as such, “so many issues don’t get taken care of.”

“We want to emphasize constructive complaining,” Blumberg explained.

Out of the health center forum and Facebook group, concerns with confidentiality and privacy, misdiagnosis, and communication emerged.

Maloney explained that last January, the university purchased a new front desk for the health center, which provides for more waiting room privacy. A sign is also posted on the desk explaining that students may request to speak with the front desk attendant in a private room.

“I met with staff [and] we’ve talked about confidentiality,” Maloney said.

As for the complaint of misdiagnosis, “I take that very seriously,” Maloney commented. “The only we can evaluate that is if the person comes to me.” She added, “it doesn’t help if a person comes in and says five of my friends were misdiagnosed. I can’t fix the mistakes if I don’t know specifically what they are.”

Communication between student and nurse or doctor has also been the subject of concern. Maloney explained that when she sees a student, she tells him or her “if I ask you a question that seems odd, ask me…people need to be very comfortable stopping and asking.”

In order to improve communication, Blumberg suggested the creation of information cards that explain the health visit process for students who have never visited a doctor or nurse without their parents.

“That’s a great project to work with the advisory committee,” Maloney said. “Education is the piece that I’ve been pushing.”

She added, “when there’s an issue like this, let’s stop, let’s look at this logically,” Maloney said, “how are you going to rectify” the problem? Additionally, she said, “let’s not look past the people who are happy.”

“There are a lot of people who go the health center every day and get great service,” Blumberg acknowledged, “[but] when a sentiment has pervaded for so long, there has to be something to it.”

Maloney concluded, “there needs to be the message out there to students that I have an open door policy. If people are unhappy, they need to talk to me, not to each other.”