Colonial Health Center plans reforms

Last Monday, GW's Colonial Health Center (CHC) announced policy changes to be implemented in the fall semester of the 2018-2019 school year. These reforms include changing the format of GW’s insurance program, eliminating fees for “stepped care” mental health sessions, implementing an electronic records system, and offering new dietician services.

A statement released by the Student Association (SA) last Monday detailed the changes, emphasizing the role of student input from the SA’s Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) and organizations like Care for GW.

SA Director of Student Health Reed Waxham said that he began discussing ways to improve the CHC after his appointment to the position last April, leading to the formation of the Student Health Advisory Council. Waxham explained, “since its formation, SHAC has become an avenue for understanding student health issues, a space to generate solutions, and a platform to work towards those solutions.” He also said that the input of the SHAC and students “informed and guided the changes that were just announced.”

Care for GW, a student organization focused on making student health insurance more affordable, also released a statement in response to the CHC reforms. The statement says that the organization “applauds the University for enacting best practices that have long been utilized by universities within GW’s market basket.” However, the group also expressed that they are “deeply concerned” that GW has not provided information about assistance for low-income students. “Without subsidization,” the statement says, “the health coverage requirement is simply an added cost to attending GW.”

Under the new format, the insurance mandate will lower the cost of GW’s student health insurance plan from $4,103 to approximately $2,750. Students will now be automatically enrolled in GW’s health insurance program and must submit a waiver demonstrating that their current insurance plan “meets coverage standards” to opt-out.

Waxham noted that the waiver format “will have the immediate effect of reducing the cost of GW’s student health insurance. That means more students will have access to affordable care at the Colonial Health Center and around D.C.”

Another major reform is the elimination of fees for mental health sessions within the “stepped care” model of counseling offered by the CHC. In the past, students had access to six free mental health sessions. The SA statement says that this reform will “guarantee that all students have access to mental health care, regardless of their ability to pay.” Counseling services will also be expanded to the Virginia Science and Technology Campus.

Mental health services have been provided on the Mount Vernon campus since 2014 following three student deaths on the campus. According to the website for Mental Health Services (MHS) on the Mount Vernon campus, “students can access routine services by coming into the Foggy Bottom Mental Health Services location.” The site also says that MHS hours on the Mount Vernon Campus “change from semester to semester.” Current walk-in hours for MHS counseling on the Vern occur on Mondays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Since its opening in 2015, leadership of the CHC has been turbulent. Later that year, the director of Mental Health Services stepped down after it was discovered that he was not licensed to practice in the District. In September 2017, the Associate Dean of the CHC resigned after holding the position for six months. Currently, the CHC is under the temporary leadership of Danielle Lico, Associate Dean for Student Administrative Services.

It remains unclear whether reforms to the Colonial Health Center will improve the quality of care that students receive, as many have shared their negative experiences with the CHC’s care in recent years.

Regarding reforms to the CHC in the future, Waxham said that he will work with incoming SA President Ashley Le to continue the SHAC’s advocacy. Waxham explained, “more work needs to be done to improve graduate student access to the CHC, ensure affordability, and prioritize the patient experience—and SHAC will be the conduit to advocate for those issues.”

Originally published on by Stephanie Gemmell on 4.9.2018.