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Concordia’s holistic approach

Campus Wellness and Support Services are reshaping how health care is delivered
September 6, 2016
By J. Latimer

Gaya Arasaratnam: “Together, we’re building a new identity and a new culture.” Gaya Arasaratnam: “Together, we’re building a new identity and a new culture.”

If there’s one word that defines Concordia’s new Campus Wellness and Support Services (CWSS), it’s holistic.

This contemporary approach to health care is a comprehensive system of inquiry that considers the physical, emotional and social needs of each person.

‘It’s time to reimagine health and well-being’

CWSS brings together three units that used to belong to three different departments. “It’s an exciting time of curiosity and discovery,” says Gaya Arasaratnam, who was appointed director of the office in May. “Together, we’re building a new identity and a new culture.”

Indeed, Concordia’s CWSS is part of the reorganization of student services that began with revitalizing the Student Success Centre last year. Health Services, Counselling and Psychological Services and the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities now form this new directorate, with a mission to promote accessibility and wellness within an environment that is inclusive, supportive and collaborative.

“It’s time to reimagine ways of providing more responsive services that address the health and well-being of the university community,” says Lisa Ostiguy, deputy provost of Concordia.

‘Turning aspirations into tactical reality’

Arasaratnam is working with her office to conceive of what a healthy campus community in a next-generation university could look like. As part of that process, she wants to capitalize on current strengths, build new ones and decentralize leadership to increase capacity and work across departments.

“My first few weeks on the job were spent listening to anyone who had time to talk to me — my own team, stakeholders, even people who didn’t have a stake ... My notes were so copious, I got writer’s cramp,” she says with a laugh.

With time, these notes mixed with knowledge on unit and department goals culled from folders and shared drives. “My team is ambitious and so am I. To turn aspirations into tactical reality, we identified three interdepartmental focuses,” says Arasaratnam.

These are: a common Electronic Health Record (EHR) and data-informed care, healthy campus communities and seamlessly integrated responsive care.

‘The first university in Canada to adopt this solution’

According to Arasaratnam, many universities do not have a common EHR. The few that do tend to use a single vendor solution across all units — no matter how different they are. “I have a new idea. Let’s create a best-of-breed solution that is both individual and communal,” she says.

On an individual level, this will give each unit a system that is appropriate for the unique needs of students with disabilities, students who need counselling and students with health issues. On a communal level, it will link all these units of caregiving together through a common visual dashboard.

“The clinician will get a holistic picture of the patient’s situation at a glance,” says Arasaratnam. “We would be the first university in Canada to adopt this solution.”

Yet, Concordia’s health records are still paper based, housed in filing cabinets.

“There are many things to consider — legal, privacy, procurement, IT security and change management — as we move from paper data to digital. But the payoffs are significant and I am glad we’re starting the conversation now.”

‘Wellness is a big tent. We can all contribute.’

Traditionally, societies use GPA as a metric of a recent grad’s success, notes Arasaratnam. But she’s interested in expanding that emphasis and moulding more holistic Concordians.

“There are other traits we hope students have when they graduate. Are they resilient? Do they feel empowered? Can they empower others? By adopting a holistic view on what success means, we start to realise that we need to approach things differently. GPA is great, but so is an A+ in empathy.”

CWSS is working to build a common identity and culture — all while re-examining its models of care.

“For example, Counselling and Psychological Services is interested in ideating a new model for a new era — one that draws on stratified care and utilises a variety of treatment options such as group therapy, online modules and wellness programming,” says Arasaratnam. “CWSS is investing in multidisciplinary team initiatives, developing crisis support protocols and care programs for clinicians and practitioners so that staff are supported while they support others.”

Arasaratnam says re-tooling and learning how the team can leverage the strengths of the different philosophies and approaches in Health Services, Counselling and Psychological Services, and the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities is an important part of the process.

“By working together, we stand to be greater than the sum of our parts. Our very strength lies in the harmony of our differences.”

Additionally, she would like to broaden dialogues relating to her office’s mandate.

“Wellness is a big tent. We can all contribute. Our team looks forward to discussing how that can happen.”

To make the most of your time at Concordia, get familiar with Student Services, including Campus Wellness and Support Services.


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