After the sudden resignation of the Colonial Health Center’s leader, students and officials are divided over the future of one of the University’s most heavily-scrutinized offices.
Glenn Egelman, the first associate dean for the Colonial Health Center, submitted his resignation Sept. 22 after six months in the role, the latest in a series of abrupt departures from the University’s health center in recent years. Officials said the transition will not affect the CHC’s ability to care for students, but student advocates were alarmed by Egelman’s sudden exit and concerned about new leadership in the office.
Danielle Lico, the associate dean of students, will serve as the interim leader of the center, officials announced last week.
Peter Konwerski, the dean of student affairs, repeatedly declined to comment on the specific circumstances surrounding Egelman’s resignation. A University spokeswoman said last week he left “to pursue other career opportunities.”
“People make choices about where they want to go and what environment they want to be in,” Konwerski said in an interview. “We want everyone to feel like they find the right place.”
He said Gillian Berry, who has led Mental Health Services since 2015, and Isabel Goldenberg, the medical director, will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the health center. Egelman served in an administrative support role and didn’t treat patients, he added.
‘A huge shock’
Egelman was hired following at least a 10-month search. He was the first to serve in the director position after mental and physical health components were combined into one unit following staff layoffs in May 2016.
In multiple interviews last week, Egelman was cryptic about the reasons behind his departure, saying in an interview last Monday that “things speak for themselves.”
He said in his short tenure in the role, he had begun to develop a plan for the center to incorporate more student feedback and increase communication between the various components of the office.
“I think this was a really solid vision and an important vision for both quality and accessibility of healthcare to the students on campus,” he said. “I think it’s a very important position, but different campuses will do things differently.”
Following Egelman’s sudden departure, some student leaders said their collaborations with the center have been delayed.
Student Association President Peak Sen Chua said the SA had been working with the CHC over the past several months to launch a student advisory council that would include student voices in the health center’s decision-making processes, allowing them to meet regularly with administrators working in the center.
“I think student health has always been a big issue to students, and there are obviously many ways in which the student voice could be used to improve the health system here at GW,” he said.
The council was initially set to start its work next month, though it will likely be at least slightly pushed back following the “sudden” transition period, Chua said.
Noah Wexler, a junior and member of Care for GW, a student group working with the SA and the CHC to lower health insurance costs for students, said Egelman was excited to start the student advisory committee and to make changes to the center. He said it was a “huge shock” when he left.
“I don’t think anybody would have been that gung-ho about these issues and then just resigned for better career options,” Wexler said.
Concerns about new leadership
Konwerski said Lico – who also has administrative roles in Student Grievance Procedures, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services, Colonial Inauguration, Student Support and Family Engagement and finance and administration in the Division of Student Affairs – will not be spread too thin by also taking on the leadership of the CHC.
“We’ve really thought a lot about that in terms of the alignment of her portfolio,” Konwerski said. “I think the reality is that when we think about our managers they do have to juggle a lot but the reality is that we want them to prioritize.”
Because Lico already works with students in veterans services and helped develop the CARE network, which connects students seeking help with a number of support offices, Konwerski said she had experience with mental health and other issues relevant to the CHC.
He said the University will likely not search for a new CHC director for at least the next few months while officials evaluate the leadership structure of the center.
Wexler said Egelman was committed to overhauling the CHC by fixing affordability and communication issues within the department.
“Glenn was a huge breakthrough, just the fact that he got hired and somebody was in charge of the CHC who put student issues first and foremost,” Wexler said. “I think it’s going to be a lot harder to have an extremely vocal voice with as much weight institutionally as he did without him there.”
Dylan Roby, the associate chair of the department of health services administration at the University of Maryland, said the director of student health services should have clinical experience to give adminstrators a better understanding of the health center and how to address student health needs.
Egelman, who is also a medical doctor, worked at or oversaw medical services at five universities before coming to GW and advised universities as a healthcare consultant for several years. Lico has spent her career in student affairs but studied psychology and sociology at GW, according to her LinkedIn page.
“I would be a little bit worried about having a health center director not come from either health care administration or the physician world,” he said. “They really wouldn’t have an idea what they’re getting into.”
But Alan Sager, a professor of health management at the Boston University School of Public Health, said putting another administrator in charge of the health center may be appropriate if, like in GW’s case, the role did not deal directly with patient care.
“If there are concerns about the level of clinical standards of care at the student health service, then clinical consultation or a look at someone qualified to look at the clinical side would be helpful,” he said. “In the absence of concerns about quality of care problems, the job would be principally administrative.”
A turbulent office
Egelman’s departure is the latest sudden exit from GW’s medical services which has been plauged by scandal and high-turnover for years.
Egelman was the first to take on the role of handling all aspects of the CHC, including mental and physical health services. The change to combine all aspects of the CHC was first announced in May 2016 after budget cuts.
The former director of Mental Health Services was found not to be licensed to practice psychology in the District in 2015, and then three staffers in the MHS office were simultaneously unlicensed that year.
The previous head of what was then the University Counseling Center resigned in 2011 following allegations of unprofessional workplace behavior and incompetent leadership.
After three students died by suicide on the Mount Vernon Campus in 2014, officials boosted the budget for the counseling center by $150,000 and hired more specialized counselors. The family of one student sued the University claiming negligence after the student visited Mental Health Services twice in the week before his death.
In 2016, the counseling center hired 10 new staff members after students pushed for a more inclusive and diverse environment.
But still students have pushed for changes in the office and reforming the health services has become one of the most popular issues taken up candidates during SA elections.
Roby, the health department chair, said a high turnover rate could indicate discord between administrators who come from either medical and administrative backgrounds.
“Perhaps when you hire someone they come in thinking they can make change within a certain environment or they have a certain level of authority, but in actuality they’re reporting to other people who might be non-clinicians,” Roby said.