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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

Officials work to revive student health council

Hatchet File Photo by Dean Whitelaw | Staff Photographer
Cissy Petty, the vice president for student affairs and the dean of students, said officials will work with interested students to determine how the student health council will function this semester.

Officials are working to revive a student council that advocates for on-campus health care issues after all three official members graduated in the spring.

The Student Association initiated the Student Health Advisory Council in 2017 to provide a forum for students to voice concerns about the quality and safety of campus health care. Cissy Petty, the vice president for student affairs and the dean of students, said officials are working to change the group’s operation to become “more collaborative” to amplify voices of students advocating for student health.

“That gives me an opportunity to just start a student advisory council that has people who are interested in health and wellness, people who are interested in campus life, in general safety and care,” Petty said in an interview late last month.

She said no “transition” took place to fill the vacancies. The Colonial Health Center, the dean’s office and “interested” students will determine how students are appointed to the next council, Petty said.

She added that officials will work with the new members to decide on the exact structure, format and number of council meetings, as well as what issues the council will prioritize going forward. Petty said she wants to regularly meet with members over meals to discuss health care issues at the University.

“Once a month or every third week, I could have a group of students for lunch or dinner and then we can sit down and talk through policies,” she said. “We could talk through problems. We could talk through the hiccups – the pain points.”

Alumnus Noah Wexler, a former member of the Student Health Advisory Council and former SA director of student health policy, said the council did not accomplish much last year.

The council announced plans last December to host town halls focused on student health care issues in an effort to expand student participation in the council. Wexler said the town halls were postponed because the CHC did not find the meetings “appropriate” at the time council members proposed them to officials.

Wexler said directly requesting that the University make changes to the health care system was “easier” than working through committees.

“The upper administration primarily used the SA exclusively to gauge student opinion, and any proposed deviation from that ended up falling flat because they were so used to one method of outreach,” Wexler said.

The council was involved with the University’s decision to mandate that all students have health insurance in 2018 and the CHC’s switch to an electronic record-keeping system in 2018.

“That fact can help explain why the University responded so quickly to change health insurance and electronic health records policy back in 2018 but dragged its feet on cementing student involvement last academic year,” Wexler said.

Wexler said officials adopted changes to GW’s health insurance policy and electronic record-keeping system based off recommendations in a student report released in 2018. The report recommended that the University subsidize premiums for lower-income students based on information from financial aid documents.

Wexler said Egelman and former SA leaders pushed for officials to adopt the report’s recommendations. But he said he “butted heads” with Danielle Lico, former associate dean of students for administrative service who oversaw the CHC, because the University did not commit to using financial aid to subsidize premiums for students who did not waive the student health insurance.

Former SA President and former council member Ashley Le said the group spent much of last year observing how changes like the electronic record-keeping system and student health insurance went into effect and deciding what to prioritize based on the group’s past progress.

She said the council should consider sending members to the CHC to garner feedback from students leaving appointments about the center’s quality of care and length of appointment wait times.

“If I could go back and do it all again, I would actually have someone go to the Colonial Health Center and just sit there and observe what it’s like for a day,” Le said.

She said involving more students from health-focused organizations, like Students Against Sexual Assault, in discussions about health care issues will ensure that many students’ viewpoints are considered and that the council’s actions represent all students’ health care needs.

“Partnering with them and including them in the Student Health Advisory Council would be a very good way to expand the scope of what we can do, the feedback that you get and maybe even getting more ideas and more creative innovations to pursue,” Le said.

Le said the council should focus on improving the quality of medical and mental health care, which she said is an issue students and officials still need to combat together. Students alleged earlier this semester that the CHC lacks administrative organization and a sufficient number of trained staff to adequately accommodate students’ health care needs.

“At the end of the day, you go to a health center to make sure that you are taken care of, and oftentimes, I keep hearing about how students go to the health center but they don’t receive the highest quality of care,” Le said. “That is concerning, especially because students want to get better, not worse.”

Alumnus Reed Elman, a former council member and the former SA co-director of student health services, said the council provided a “critical” forum for students to provide input on health care issues at the University.

“In just months after its launch, SHAC was able to secure systemic changes to the mental health offerings and student health insurance program at the University,” Elman said. “But more work needs to be done, and critical to that effort is the work of the Student Health Advisory Council.”

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