After a six-month stint as associate dean of the Colonial Health Center, Glenn Egelman abruptly resigned last month, leaving GW’s health facility without a leader and students understandably concerned and confused. There was an outrageous 17-month gap in leadership that occurred until Egelman, who took over in a new role that ran all branches of the CHC, including MHS, was hired earlier this year.
Officials said they would wait a few months before launching an official search, but they shouldn’t. Due to the importance and prominence of this position – which heads all student medical and mental health services, as well as health prevention and promotion – it’s vital that the University find an immediate replacement that students and administrators can agree on within three months of Egelman’s departure. Officials have named Danielle Lico, who currently serves as the associate dean of students, the interim leader of the center. But she already has a long list of duties at the University and doesn’t have experience, or a degree, in medicine.
To avoid another extensive and excessively long search, University administrators need to reach out to student organizations in a timely manner.
In the next three months, the University must act quickly and decisively to ensure a seamless transition. Promptly hiring a new associate dean will put the center back on track and allow the CHC to swiftly implement policy changes to improve student access to health care. This position is about coordination and policy changes. The role was created last year to oversee all of GW’s health services after the senior associate dean of students position was eliminated during budget cuts. Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said at the time the “new structure will better align existing staff resources.” But this is significantly harder for an interim director to complete.
The CHC has improved in the last several years, taking steps like transitioning to electronic check-ins and expanding hours, but the center has seriously struggled with ineffective – or nonexistent – leadership. Without cooperation and organization from steady leaders, it’s easier for different CHC branches to have a lapse in communication and fail to address challenges. In addition, an interim leader lacks the authority and resolve to implement needed change. It was irresponsible and unacceptable to leave the student body without a CHC leader or a permanent MHS leader for a 17-month-long gap. This cannot happen again as GW looks for Egelman’s replacement.
To avoid another extensive and excessively long search, University administrators need to reach out to student organizations in a timely manner. University President Thomas LeBlanc should host a town hall specifically asking for the student body’s input on the CHC as soon as possible. Then administrators should meet with the Student Association and relevant student organizations, like Students Against Sexual Assault and the Health Policy Student Association, to get feedback from them. Student input should be used to frame the search process early on, and a few students should be involved in the search. Qualified candidates should have a vision that matches that of the student body, and a shortlist should be created based off of that information within a month.
The most important step in hiring a new director is targeting candidates who fulfill all of the job requirements. The CHC executive director must have the leadership skills to manage different fields in medical and mental health services. They must also have experience in managing multiple entities at once, as well a strong background in mental health. The next leader should also be licensed to practice psychiatry in the District so that they can fully understand all aspects of the role.
Ultimately, when there’s no continuity in administrative positions, it’s the students that are negatively impacted.
The University needs to attract and retain top-tier candidates. If student health is truly the school’s top priority, then this position needs to reflect that. The director can’t function when facing massive oversight from the administration. A leader with more autonomy can be expected to stay longer and be more effective. While some oversight may be necessary, especially at first, the leader should be trusted to make decisions without constantly reporting to higher ups.
Improving communication between the CHC, students and administrators could improve retention as well. Establishing goals that the student body would like to achieve can give the director an early picture of what they need to accomplish. Egelman’s six-month tenure lasted far shorter than the search process to hire him, and his departure left many questioning the level of transparency behind the reasons why he left. Ultimately, when there’s no continuity in that position, it’s the students that are negatively impacted.
In his time at GW, Egelman began to form a student advisory council and implement plans to improve communication within the center. These plans should be continued by the new director. In addition, the new dean should address other student concerns, like the limited hours of the CHC, and work to implement a more coordinated effort between the mental and physical health branches of the center.
The CHC shouldn’t be without a leader for another 17 months, and the replacement should be able to last more than just a mere six months. Students deserve continuity of care, and that starts at the top.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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