University must find a qualified and permanent leader for Colonial Health Center

Updated: Sept. 10, 2018 at 2:07 p.m.

The Colonial Health Center is in dire need of permanent leadership. After more than a year of turnover at the highest administrative level, the University is neglecting its students by not prioritizing change within the health center.

In the past year, the CHC has seen three different leaders. Glenn Egelman, the first permanent director after the center opened in 2015, unexpectedly resigned from his position last September after serving just six months in the role. After his departure, Danielle Lico, the former associate dean of students for administrative services, was named interim director – but her position was eliminated this summer. Now, M.L. “Cissy” Petty, the dean of the student experience, leads the center as officials search for a new director.

Cartoon by Jekko Syquia

This latest shake-up – on top of more than a year of large, internal issues – has left a crucial part of the student experience hanging in the balance. Given the importance of having a functional and dependable student health center, it is crucial that the University prioritizes finding a permanent, qualified director of the CHC as soon as possible.

Student health is something that the University must always prioritize, and this consistent vacancy filled by interim administrators over the past year shows an alarming lack of concern from officials. It is unacceptable that nearly a year after the center’s first permanent director left, we are still without a qualified, long-term director and are still shuffling around interims in the position.

In order to start a process of reforming the systematic issues in the CHC, like billing issues, misdiagnoses and a small window of weekend hours, a highly-qualified administrator must be found soon.

While Petty is a good fit for the dean of the student experience, she isn’t qualified to be running the CHC. Petty has a background in counseling, but that is not enough to run a medical center. Especially not while trying to juggle all aspects of her job description, which includes overseeing dining and housing. She might be capable of handling multiple duties across multiple departments, but medical services are too important to be just one aspect of her job. The University cannot continue to treat this position as an afterthought and be comfortable shifting in interim leaders who are not versed in medicine.

Of GW’s 12 peer schools, nine have student health centers led by administrators with medical degrees, including Boston and Georgetown universities. When choosing a leader to oversee a student health center, it makes little sense for an administrator with little to no medical experience to be the best fit for the job.

Having a leader with the proper experience is the bare minimum, but that qualification alone is not enough. After a year with a revolving door of administrators leading the center, it is crucial that whoever is responsible for the CHC also has a vision for how they want the health center to improve.

After Egelman’s sudden resignation, he sent a letter detailing the numerous issues within the CHC, including a lack of guidance and supervision, no transparency with billing and failure to meet national quality standards.

While problems that have been piling up, there have been small successes, including an increase in free mental health sessions and the implementation of electronic records. But there are other issues students have raised that still need to be addressed, and a long-term solution to these problems cannot be achieved without a strong leader.

Petty’s vision to improve the CHC includes ideas that students have called for many times, including expanding weekend hours and adding more counselors. However, students have heard the promise that the CHC will fix problems like this before. The University needs to provide tangible evidence that steps are being taken to implement this plan, otherwise, it will be hard to believe that Petty is able to run the center while performing her other duties.

It is crucial that GW finds a qualified person to fill this vital position by the end of the fall semester, since it has been more than a year without a permanent director. While officials may already be on the lookout for a qualified candidate, students deserve to know details about the search and get answers as to why this position has been vacant for so long, as it is directly connected with their health and tuition dollars. In addition to providing evidence that the University is making strides to improve the CHC, students also deserve transparency in the hiring process and vacancies in the administration.

The University needs to act quickly to find a qualified candidate to run the CHC. It is unacceptable that nearly a year later, we still are still calling for help for one of the most important aspects of students’ college experience struggles. Because the CHC is so important, the person running it shouldn’t be a stopgap interim that has many other duties. The CHC needs a full-time leader that is qualified to practice medicine and dedicated to staying at the University.

Under a permanent leader, the health center can move toward achieving goals to improve health services for all students, but until then it can’t fulfill its role in providing care to students – and that’s a critical problem.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Margot Dynes.

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