Administrator says health center unlikely to move, thwarting SA goals

The University’s top health administrator called the Student Association’s plan to relocate the GW health center financially unfeasible, throwing a huge hurdle in front of student leaders’ biggest goal.

Mark Levine, a senior associate dean who oversees student wellness, said in an email it would be too costly to move Student Health Service out of its 2021 K St. location. And with no alternative spaces, he said it could be “favorable” to renew the lease until at least 2020.

“It would be an expensive endeavor to move such a large department,” he said. “At this time, there is no vacant and unused campus space that could accommodate SHS.”

His comments come just as SA leaders Julia Susuni and Kostas Skordalos begin to lobby administrators to move SHS and the University Counseling Center, located at 2033 K St., to campus to promote healthier living habits.

With SHS located two blocks off campus, Susuni said its lack of visibility gives the impression that students’ health and wellness is not a top concern for GW.

SHS “is not visible on our campus,” she said. “I think that if it were more visible, then it would be seen as a greater priority for the University.”

The proposed move was a key part of Susuni’s platform last spring. The Health and Wellness Task Force met for the first time last month, and she said she has been trying to gauge whether students would support a potential move.

She said she still considers it one of the year’s most important issues, and plans to pursue it as a long-term goal.

While Levine said he would be “open” to the idea of SHS and UCC sharing a building, he said it was unlikely to happen because of space issues.

“There is no short-term solution to this question, but one that will take careful planning and thoughtful consideration,” Levine said. “Yes, it is a good idea to engage students and staff on the topic and make sure the university leadership understands this is an important issue for the student community.”

Levine declined to comment on the specific costs that would be associated with moving SHS to a location on campus.

He also added that the K Street location is beneficial because it is close to GW Hospital, provides anonymity to students and is located in the same building as a pharmacy, an imaging center and a lab for faster medical test results.

In addition to space, senior Samantha Herman, who co-chairs the task force with Levine, added that rent prices and the University’s pre-existing contract make the SA’s goals “not feasible.”

“We know not every goal we create – like this one – is feasible because of people being locked into contracts,” Herman said. “If we were to help the administration with moving the resources on campus, we will also have to look at the zoning proposals in place for locations.”

SHS counts about 22,000 visits each year, Levine said. The center has moved three times in the past 25 years, mostly recently in 2006 when it shifted from the basement of the Medical Faculty Associates building to K Street to give anonymity to students and to have access to more space.

Students, administrators and faculty have confronted the issue as part of the Health and Wellness Task Force, which was formed at the end of last year by then-SA President Ashwin Narla. Short-term goals, Susuni said, include adding a trauma specialist to SHS and improving resources for students suffering from eating disorders.

HIV student activists on campus started pushing the University to hold more testing clinics on campus this year because they think the free, monthly testing at SHS is too far off campus. The number of students taking tests has dwindled for several years.

This post was updated Oct. 10 to include an additional comment from Mark Levine.

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