LaFarr chosen as executive director
This July, the University appointed Michael LaFarr, the former associate director of the Psychological Counseling Center, to take over the position of executive director of the University’s Health and Wellness Resources. LaFarr will oversee the Psychological Counseling Center and the Golding Health Center, and work closely with Assistant Vice President for Health and Wellness and Director of Athletics Sheryl Sousa ’90.
The position was created after Hodgins Beckley Consulting, a consulting firm specializing in higher education health care management, released a review of Brandeis’ health and wellness resources last November. The review was commissioned by the administration in order to give a detailed overview of the status of the health and wellness resources. Various organizational problems were revealed by the review, according to a November 5 Justice article, and the administration stated then that it hoped to address these problems by installing an executive director. Among the problems noted was a lack of communication within the Health Center. At the PCC, the review stated that the “wait times for intake appointments can be a serious concern.” Most students who are new patients to the PCC, according to the report, are not necessarily seen within the one-week period that the center advertises as its maximum admittance time.
In an email to the Justice, LaFarr wrote that his new position is concerned with a “wellness component [that] is about proactive/health education and outreach efforts in ... three areas,” which include the PCC, the Health Center and nutrition thereby solving the communication gap noted in the report.
Dr. Robert Berlin, the former senior director of the PCC, has retired. And in addition to her current position as senior associate director, Joy von Steiger has been named clinical director of the PCC, which is a brand new position created to “oversee all clinical matters” at the PCC.
Furthermore, the PCC has hired a new psychologist, Kristin Huang, who specializes in trauma and sexual violence. Huang has recently completed a postdoctoral clinical fellowship focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Administration Boston Healthcare System. She has also worked with veterans struggling with sexual trauma as well as other forms of trauma.
LaFarr also wrote that this summer he will “make offers to additional therapists.” So far, he reported that he has hired five new part-time clinicians and is looking for a sixth.
The health and wellness facilities have also undergone a technological revamping over the summer. Students will be able to check in via iPads and schedule appointments online through Titanium, an electronic medical record system that is designed for use by college counseling centers. According to LaFarr, “the PCC had purchased Titanium a couple of years ago, [however,] the entire package had not been implemented and is now fully implemented.” He wrote in the email that he hopes that the program will “speed up the check in process and give students more efficient service.”
In the coming year, LaFarr wrote that the PCC will “continue work to train faculty in student support in the classroom,” which includes recognizing signs of distress in their students and knowing how to go about supporting those students.
The PCC will also expand its group program offerings, he wrote, which include meditation and mindfulness, as well as an emotion management group and a group focused on working through trauma.
Along with changes in staffing, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel sent an email to the Brandeis community last Thursday with updates on additional changes that have occurred with the Health Center and the PCC.
Although LaFarr said in an interview with the Justice that the University’s health plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which students must have if they do not have an alternate and comparable private insurance plan, has remained relatively similar compared to last year.
LaFarr said that any changes in coverage have been on the state level in compliance with state regulations, and not at the University level. The University, however, will be implementing an insurance billing system in the fall “that will eliminate, in most instances, students having to pay out-of-pocket expenses for primary care services,” according to Flagel’s email.
The University will bill students’ insurance companies for all services, and students will have to present their insurance cards at every appointment. Because students are paying to fund the Health Center contract as a part of student fees, the University will pay for co-payments, co-insurance or deductibles of both private and University insurance plans after the student’s insurance plan has been billed, according to the email.
“The school is simply able to off set some of the costs of health services by collecting reimbursement from insurance agencies for covered services,” wrote Nurse Manager and Administrative Director of the Health Center Diana Denning in an email to the Justice on how the University will recapture these funds.
One of the critiques in the review of the University’s health services included burdens placed on graduate students.
The University has now expanded all services to graduate students and removed the additional graduate student health fee. LaFarr said in an interview with the Justice that services for graduate students were “harder to access with private plans and sometimes involved paying a co-pay.” The University will now cover graduate students as they cover undergraduate students, and graduate students also had the option of taking the University insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Although non-University insurance plans must comply with their respective rules, the one exception, according to LaFarr, remains the 12 free sessions at the PCC. Graduate students will now be allowed 12 free sessions as well, as opposed to having to pay through insurance from session one, according to LaFarr. After 12 sessions, however, all students must pay through insurance for counseling.
In regard to the University's psychological counseling coverage plan, LaFarr said that “[i]t’s a very generous plan.”
Flagel’s email also noted additional benefits to students including no out-of-pocket expenses for vaccinations or emergency contraception and access to physicians or nurse practitioners by appointment for all students presenting for illness, injury or routine preventative exams.
In addition, electronic health records will be implemented for easier access, and improvements will be made for appointment scheduling and access, as well as to insurance services, insurance billing and electronic records management.