Resignations still plaguing UHCS

A resignation at the campus medical center this week marked the latest in a series of continued departures over the last three months.

The most recent departure came Monday morning, when Laura Weiss, coordinator of Sexual Assault Services, announced her resignation, set to take effect at the beginning of April. Weiss was hired by the university in October 2003 after a coalition of students pressed the administration for more than 10 years to create the position.

Eight employees from both the counseling and medical sides of the University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) have announced their resignations since October, continuing a trend of resignations that began early last year.

Other members who resigned included a primary care practitioner, all three of the center’s registered nurses and three counselors.

Only one medical staff member remains who was on staff prior to the hiring of UHCS Executive Director Roberta Berrien.

None of the individuals who resigned would comment on their reasons for leaving.

The resignations are the latest in a rash of departures that have cleared out many staff members following the restructuring of the university’s health care system.

Since the restructuring process began nearly two years ago, 23 staff members have resigned. The restructuring combined the university’s medical and counseling services into one management system, and moved both services into a new facility on Forsyth Street.

In the first wave of resignations reported by The News in October, many of the original 15 who resigned cited poor employee-management relations between the staff and Berrien. Some reported problems including Berrien’s failure to solicit employee feedback and a confrontational management style that left a bitter taste in the mouths of employees who had been at the university for many years.

When asked about the resignations, Berrien said she had not counted how many there have been. She said the resignations were part of the merging process.

“We’re not where we want to be in terms of the service we’re providing to the end result,” Berrien said. “It’s taking most of this year to get everything into place.”

That transition has included hiring new administrators to oversee staff, as well as new doctors.

Berrien said patient demand decreased after the initial wave of resignations left the center understaffed, and that counselors currently have no waiting lists.

Although demand has decreased and now there are no waiting lists, Weiss’ position will need to be filled quickly, said Philly Mantella, senior vice president for enrollment management and student affairs.

When Weiss came to the staff, she filled a gap many students felt had been left vacant in the university.

Nikki Martino, a former Student Government Association (SGA) vice president for student services, served on the search committee that hired Weiss.

Martino worked with Weiss on developing a number of programs, including a student-staffed sexual assault hotline to receive confidential calls from women who needed someone to confide in.

“When you work with Laura, it’s really apparent that she cares a lot about what she does,” Martino said. “She puts her heart and soul into everything she does. She motivates people to care as much as she did, and that’s really important.”

Former SGA President Michael Romano, who led the student push to create the sexual assault counselor position in 2003, said Weiss made an “imprint” on the university.

“She’s done an unquestionable and probably under-appreciated job in dramatically improving support services on campus,” Romano said. “She’s contributed an immense amount and in a very quiet way.”

Romano recalled the time before the position was created, when students who had been sexually assaulted came to him, but had no one to confide in.

“To see a lot of students almost lose a part of themselves to something as tragic as sexual assault was just hard to watch,” he said. “She has really changed a lot of lives.”

Aside from her responsibilities in counseling students, Weiss was also involved in community outreach, collaborating with other area universities to share ideas for sexual assault awareness.

Weiss also set up a four-credit class with the human services department that trained students to be sexual assault counselors.

Mantella, who oversees the health center and orchestrated both the creation of Weiss’ position and the UHCS merger, said the sexual assault program will continue in Weiss’ absence.

“We are very committed to the sexual assault program we have built at UHCS,” Mantella said in an e-mail. “We will refill the position and we will invite SGA to serve on the search as they did before.”

Current SGA Vice President for Student Services Rogan O’Handley said Weiss’s departure would be a major loss to the university, but said he is already working with UHCS to bring a replacement to the university.

O’Handley, who also chairs a student board that oversees the health center and meets with Berrien regularly, declined to comment directly on the resignation. He said, despite the regular meetings, he does not have a good picture of the situation at UHCS, and why there have been resignations.

“We can’t wait around and discuss the resignation,” O’Handley said. “We need to move forward so we can find someone who will provide students with the best possible service.”

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