Science & Research

Med. director forms Chronic Disease Care Committee

Administrators, clinicians hope to better University-student communication about health resources

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2015

Navigating the transition from living at home to attending a residential college can be especially difficult for students with chronic health conditions. To ease this transition, Medical Director of Health Services Unab Khan formed the Chronic Disease Care Committee this semester. The committee is composed of University administrators and health services clinicians, including registered nurses and nurse practitioners.

“Our goal is to identify students with chronic illnesses, to let them know that we’re here and to collaborate with their home providers in order to make the transition easier,” said Kristie Sullivan, clinical information specialist at health services, who is also a nurse and a member of the committee.

Reaching out to students is important, as it can be hard for new students to find the resources they need while experiencing symptoms if they are not made aware of what the University offers, Sullivan said. One such resource is Student and Employee Accessibility Services, an office that offers students free transportation both around campus and to appointments off campus, assistance with housing, diet accommodations and academic services including note-taking services.

David O’Connell ’16, who has type 1 diabetes and is registered with SEAS, said the office helped him when he had to miss an exam due to his condition.

“I have great protection in those instances, so I wasn’t punished for missing the exam,” he said.

Students whose diets are restricted because of allergies and autoimmune disorders can receive access to special meals through SEAS to supplement the offerings of the required first-year meal plan.

Emily Breuer ’16 cannot eat wheat, rye or barley due to Celiac disease. Through SEAS, she can request special meals prepared without the risk of cross-contamination with the ingredients she cannot tolerate. While this service exists, it is not publicized, Breuer said.

“It is my responsibility to tell (SEAS) that I have an allergy, but I definitely had to chase them down,” she said.

Teri Minogue ’18, who has anaphylactic nut allergies in addition to severe allergies to fruits and vegetables, also said she had trouble initially securing support from SEAS.

“The resources are there, but you have to go out of your way to find them,” she said.

Minogue now has a key to a room in the Sharpe Refectory, where she can access allergen-free food, but she said she had to surmount substantial obstacles to get it.

“They didn’t give it to me until after I’d had a reaction,” she said. Minogue called Emergency Medical Services and ended up in the Miriam Hospital after having a reaction to nuts.

“I had a meeting with SEAS, and they gave me the key,” she said. “They have special meals, but you have to go find them.”

Mark Rubinstein, a psychotherapist at Health Services, runs a support group for students with chronic conditions in which students can share their frustrations and advice about attending Brown while facing significant health concerns. Rubinstein said the attendees often share resources with one another.

“Some people come here who haven’t registered with SEAS, and students will tell them how SEAS can help them,” he said.

Putting students with chronic conditions into contact with SEAS early on during their academic experience could reduce the issues they face coming into Brown, as “SEAS does a good job acting as a conduit for services,” Rubinstein said.

But for some students, chronic conditions develop after arriving at the University.

Sarah Pierce ’16 struggled with finding the services she needed when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma during her first year at Brown.

“It’s not that the resources aren’t there, it’s that it’s hard to find them when you’re sick,” she said.

Pierce said she never registered with SEAS, since she did not view her medical condition as chronic, and so did not receive the support it offers.

“I think they could let people know about the daytime shuttle to the hospital,” she said. “There was so much going on that I didn’t have time to look.”

Pierce said she thinks it is important for the University to do a better job publicizing resources available to students.

While identifying incoming students with chronic conditions to ensure they receive support remains a priority for the committee, many students echoed the desire for a list of services and resources that could help them cope with common chronic and severe health conditions.

Sullivan said while the committee’s current goal is to identify incoming students, its future goal is to determine how to incorporate current students into their strategic plans.

“If the committee could make a website that lists the resources available, that would be great,” Rubinstein said.