UBC’s proposed health plan addresses ‘grossly understaffed’ student health services

On February 5, 2020, VP Students Ainsley Carry presented the Integrated Student Health and Wellbeing plan to the UBC Board of Governors (BoG) People, Community and International (PCI) committee.

The model aims to improve the access and delivery of health and well-being services to UBC students by expanding the health care space available on campus.

In 2019, Carry initiated a series of Student Health and Wellbeing listening sessions to gain a broader understanding of the student health care experience at UBC. From September 17 to October 21, 2019, the VP Students office conducted 15 sessions and heard from over 400 UBC Vancouver and Okanagan students on the delivery of student health care.

A major concern many of the students raised was limited accessibility and a lack of diversity among health care providers. During a February 2020 BoG meeting, Carry said that for a university of UBC’s size, “we are grossly understaffed with regard to student health services.”

“We have a portfolio of 2,500 employees in the division of Student Affairs, yet 70 of those employees are devoted to accessing and providing student health care … If you measure us to any other university our size, this is an inappropriate number to support student health care.”

Privacy, provincial integration concerns

Although Carry sees a robust opportunity for elevating student health care and facilitating strong partnerships with UBC Health and the Schools of Kinesiology, Nursing and Medicine, many PCI committee members have criticized the plan for the lack of student privacy and integration with provincial health services.

Dr. Charles Menzies, associate professor in the department of anthropology and a member of the BoG, expressed concern about the university developing a privatized health care system. He said that integration with public sector services will allow for continuity in the care provided to students.

“The plan that was presented, to me, seems to represent a form of creating a detailed, private, UBC-specific health care system focused upon a mid-range of care in terms of well-being,” he said.

School of Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate and a BoG student representative Jeanie Malone said that a common concern was protecting the privacy of students accessing health services from those who have class in the Gateway building.

But Malone added that the most important aspect for students to be aware of is navigating health care and well-being services.

“In terms of most important pieces for students to know about is just … making sure students understand where [they] go for counselling, where [they] can see a GP to talk about some health concern,” she said.

Carry explained in a written statement to The Ubyssey that while he plans to address the distinct concerns of Board members, his timeline has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The university’s primary focus right now is working through the evolving COVID-19 situation and its impacts on our students, faculty and staff and operations,” he said.

“The office continues to work on other areas, including integration and will present its response to the Board’s questions, but at this time it’s too early to speculate when that will be.”