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Officials establish Vern health clinic, expand weekend urgent care hours

Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor
Officials are rolling out several changes to student health care, expanding weekend hours and establishing a clinic on the Mount Vernon Campus.

Officials are expanding urgent care services to later hours on weekends and establishing a health care clinic on the Mount Vernon Campus.

Urgent care hours – which previously ran from 9 a.m. to noon at the Colonial Health Center on Saturdays – are now from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at the CHC and Sundays in Merriweather Hall on the Vern. Cissy Petty, the vice president for student affairs and the dean of students, said the changes came from monthslong discussions with officials, who agreed that urgent care should be accessible for students on both campuses.

“My first year, I started making a list of all the conversations that I’ve had with students over the CHC and just in general on both campuses, and the Mount Vernon students felt very isolated in terms of health care,” Petty said.

She said she recruited current CHC staff members and hired two more staffers to offer health care services over the weekend. Petty said the University’s operating budget will cover the costs of expanding health care services.

Petty said the space in Merriweather Hall was conducive to a new health care facility because it housed a health care clinic before the Vern – previously the private women’s college Mount Vernon College – merged with GW in 1997.

She said the counseling space on the Vern was originally situated in a classroom with mismatched furniture. The new center has a waiting area separate from the counseling office and health provider offices to make the space more “intentional,” she said.

Petty said she hopes the piloted changes will remain in effect indefinitely, even if only a few students utilize weekend urgent care hours and health facilities on the Vern. She said she will gather feedback from students via a “student satisfaction assessment.”

“What happens sometimes is that, if students don’t use a facility often enough, then we say, ‘Well, it’s inefficient,’ instead of that safety and care are more important than the efficiency,” Petty said. “I’m going to work to put safety and care first, and I’m not going to worry about the revenue.”

Petty said she may hold off on hiring a permanent CHC head for one or two more years to ensure she has enough time to revamp the center into a place students feel comfortable using. She has acted as the center’s interim director for a year.

The CHC has operated without a permanent leader since Glenn Egelman, the center’s former associate dean, left in 2017, citing the center’s “minimal” efforts to ensure the quality and safety of health care available to students as the reason for his departure. More than a year after his departure, students alleged in interviews that the CHC lacks administrative organization and sufficient numbers of staff to adequately accommodate students’ health care needs.

Petty said she also plans to hire a director of counseling to oversee the center’s counseling and psychological services. She said she is coordinating the national search with Issacson, Miller – a higher education search firm – to fill the position.

Issacson, Miller has previously assisted dean searches for the College of Professional Studies, the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Petty said she hopes to host wellness-focused programming – like yoga classes with goats – in residence halls to address student depression and anxiety, but she will wait to talk more about stress-relief programs until changes in the CHC are complete.

She added that she is hoping to partner with organizations like the Medical Faculty Associates and the GW Hospital to offer students priority access to health care services at each institution.

“I don’t know why we’re not doing more with them in programming,” Petty said. “Those are the bridges I have yet to cross.”

Student leaders said the new health care clinic and expanded weekend hours will make health care services more easily accessible for Vern residents and demonstrate that officials prioritize students’ health and well-being.

Student Association President SJ Matthews said she and SA Executive Vice President Amy Martin were in talks with Petty and Mark Diaz, the executive vice president and chief financial officer, about the logistics of making changes to the CHC starting in August.

Matthews said expanding CHC health care services will ensure that students on the Vern have the same “level of care and respect” as students who live in Foggy Bottom. She said needing to walk to CVS to pick up medication or take the Vern Express to the Foggy Bottom Campus to see a health care professional at the CHC is inconvenient for students who are sick.

Vern residents said last year that they lacked quick access to health care services.

“This is really important because you never know when students are going to get sick,” Matthews said. “You never know when you’re going to need to talk to somebody and now we can ensure that students always have access to care.”

Martin said she and Matthews are “grateful” that administrators like Petty and Diaz take student health care “seriously.” She said expanding weekend urgent care hours and health care access on the Vern demonstrates that officials prioritize students’ health care needs.

“We want to make sure that everybody has access to physical and mental healthcare when they need it, not when it’s convenient to provide it,” Martin said in an email.

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