Engemann announces changes after turbulent year

Among other changes, the Engemann Student Health Center plans to hire 10 new therapists within the next few months and two more during the next academic year. They also plan to develop more resources for students with long-term mental health needs. (Ankit Mukherjee | Daily Trojan)

In the wake of several lawsuits against former gynecologist George Tyndall and the University, chief health officer Sarah Van Orman discussed updates to Engemann Student Health Center in a letter Monday.

The letter detailed new programs and changes at Engemann, including the addition of three faculty members to the USC Student Health medical team: physician Erin Jones and gynecologists Anne Michel and Deirdre Logan.

Van Orman said Michel and Logan will work to maintain the obstetrics-gynecology department at USC up-to-date and accurate.

“They’re looking at innovative ways to provide care,” Van Orman said. “They also care about outreach. Dr. Michels went out to the LGBT community event on campus and met with the students. They just want to get to know the student population more.”

Van Orman said Robert Mendola, who joined USC Student Health last September, was also appointed as the executive director of Counseling and Mental Health Services. According to the letter, Mendola’s leadership will “expedite progress in optimizing services for student care.”

Van Orman’s letter explained that student counseling services had been dependent on brief assessments,  which “left many students feeling not cared for in the way that we would want.”

To improve Engemann’s mental health department of, the center aims to hire 10 therapists in the next few months, as well as two more for the following academic year.

“We will move toward providing initial care to nearly all students who seek counseling services, reducing the percentage of referred students from approximately 70 percent to a target of 20 to 30 percent,” Van Orman said in the letter.

Van Orman said that USC Student Health will develop more resources for students with long-term mental health needs with the Keck School of Medicine’s psychiatry department.  Counseling and mental health services will include informal drop-in consultations with counselors across campus and an integrated behavioral health program that places a counselor in the medical clinic for immediate consultation.

Van Orman said that the months following Tyndall’s departure were dedicated to changing the way student health services were being provided. Since last August, she said that USC has integrated student health systems under Keck. On Aug. 7, Board of Trustees Chair Rick Caruso said in a letter that this new effort was made to “further professionalize our care and to bring the resources of our academic medical center to provide the best services to our students.”

“[The integration] means a couple of things,” said Van Orman, who was one of the officials hired from Keck last August. “I think maybe the question that is on a lot of students’ minds is, ‘How can I make sure that the care that I’m getting from [Engemann] is the best quality of care? And that includes with everything that’s happened with Dr. Tyndall, and I think the Keck transition is important for that.”

Before any healthcare providers are hired through Keck, Van Orman said they go through “credentialing and privileging,” which requires the USC Integrative Credentialing Office to review the physician’s background, training, references and overall qualifications before they start seeing patients. If anyone files a complaint about the physician, then the Office will conduct further investigation into the physician’s behavior.

“This gives [students] a level of assurance that any care that is provided here is being overseen not just by myself and our medical directors, but our whole team of people within the various departments of family medicine and risk management,” Van Orman said. “[We really want to make] sure that if anything is going on, then they are fully investigated and evaluated.”

Van Orman said she has been working closely to help prevent sexual assault and violence. A new position aimed at education and prevention work was recently created at the center, and Engemann will launch a new survey this spring.

“We are very concerned if students will trust us, and we know we have a lot of work to do to rebuild the trust of our student population,” Van Orman said. “We also developed a Sensitive Health Exam [guide], which really walks students step-by-step through what to expect during a breast exam, pelvic exam, rectal exam … so they can really feel in control.”

Van Orman emphasized that many things within Engemann will continue to improve and change.

“We’ve got lots of things in motion, but we really have an opportunity and a need to make sure we are investing and doing the best things possible for students’ health to help rebuild back that trust,” Van Orman said.