Search for a Colonial Health Center head drags on

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor

Student Association President Erika Feinman serves on a search committee for the executive director of the Colonial Health Center. The search is still in progress about 10 months after officials announced it was underway.

More than a year after the leader of Mental Health Services resigned, there are no updates on the search for an executive director of the Colonial Health Center.

Last year, officials announced that the Colonial Health Center would rework the Mental Health Services director position and hire an executive director to oversee the entire center. University spokeswoman Kurie Fitzgerald said last week that the search for the center’s executive director is underway but declined to provide any updates on the process.

“We have received a number of qualified applicants,” Fitzgerald said. “We have no additional updates at this time.”

Fitzgerald declined to comment on what stage the search for a director is in, when a director will be named, what traits they are looking for in a director, how many candidates have been interviewed and the background of the candidates.

The new executive director will oversee the offices within the Colonial Health Center, including Medical Services, Mental Health Services and Health Promotion and Prevention Services, she said.

Officials said last summer that GW’s student affairs division and provost’s office launched a search for the executive director. The new position was one of several reorganizations in a series of budget cuts announced in May.

It has been 16 months since Mental Health Services lost its top leader. Silvio Weisner, the former director of MHS, stepped down in September 2015 after officials found he was not licensed to practice psychology in D.C.

It’s been a positive experience working with the committee and I’ve enjoyed learning about some of the issues that Colonial Health faces from the administrative side.

Fitzgerald said students will be involved in the search process but did not provide details on how.

Erika Feinman, the president of the Student Association and a member of the search committee, said they were chosen to represent students’ voices. Feinman said more students will be involved in the process in later stages.

“It’s been a positive experience working with the committee and I’ve enjoyed learning about some of the issues that Colonial Health faces from the administrative side, and sort of thinking about that in relation to the issues I hear students are facing,” Feinman said.

Feinman said having one person in charge of both health services and MHS will help students to find everything they need from a medical center in one place.

“I’m always looking for someone who is student-focused. Someone who can understand the needs of students and connect with them,” Feinman said. “The main thing that everyone hopes is that this person will focus on continuing that implementation process and making sure that Colonial Health and the medical side and mental health side of it are working together and that everything is smoothed together.”

Jocelyn Jacoby, the co-president of the Students Against Sexual Assault, said last semester student leaders were talking with officials about what they were looking for in a student health leader but that she hasn’t been contacted about the process since.

I would like to see a leader that continues to work with student groups and fosters that relationship.

Jacoby said during the focus group, student leaders met with the person in charge of the search committee who answered specific questions, including what an ideal director would be like and what students think the center can improve. Keeling and Associates, a higher education consulting firm, is leading the search.

“This shows the University commitment to focus on the needs of its students and acknowledges our expertise in the problems students face,” she said. “I would like to see a leader that continues to work with student groups and fosters that relationship.”

Health center leaders at other universities said a director should be qualified to run all areas of the department and that students should be involved in the search process.

David Reitman, the medical director of the American University Student Health Center, said he was involved in interviewing three candidates for director of AU’s health center and that all were qualified, but none were the right fit. He said it is not unusual for the process to take more than a year but that it should not exceed two years.

“You don’t want to have just a warm body in there because if you don’t have a good leader in there it trickles down and ultimately the students are the ones who feel it and that is the worst situation,” he said.

You may need someone who has a broader background in terms of management and understanding the mental health piece.

Reitman said that this position – which involves overseeing both the entire center and mental health services – might call for someone with a unique skill set.

“You may need someone who has a broader background in terms of management and understanding the mental health piece,” Reitman said. “You are looking for someone who is a strong leader who can bridge both of those entities.”

Sarah Van Orman, the executive director of University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said using students in the search process can be helpful in understanding the campus and what the community needs.

“Student voices are really important,” Van Orman said. “It is really important to make sure there is a good match with the health director.”

Dani Grace and Elise Zaidi contributed reporting.

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