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MIT Medical Establishes New Campus Life Clinical Director

By Brian Loux

NEWS EDITOR

MIT Medical is currently seeking to fill a new position entitled Clinical Director for Campus Life for next fall as well as the position of Chief of Mental Health, which will be vacant next fall.

The current Chief of Mental Health, Dr. Peter Reich, announced last June to his department that he would step down from his position before the fall 2002 term. “I had planned to step down at age 70,” he said. “I felt that it was time as chief administrator.”

The new position was conceived before the Mental Health Task Force made its proposals for improving mental health care at MIT, but the conceived position took shape as time went on. “[The Task Force] was influential, but the two were running in parallel,” said Laureen Gray R.N., chair of the search committee for Clinical Director for Campus Life (CDCL).

Each search committee has already met once and is currently in the process of publicizing the positions. “The committee members identified the key qualities for the most appropriate person for this position,” Gray said. “We also talked about methods of recruiting and how to go about getting the best candidate.”

Position guidelines being developed

At its meeting on Jan. 31, the Clinical Director for Campus Life Search Committee decided upon the essential qualities of the new position. While a specialized field of expertise was not stated, the director must “connect with students students and the MIT community” and “possess a solid knowledge of health education,” according to the meeting’s minutes.

“The position is a work in progress,” said Annette Jacobs, Executive Director of MIT Medical, “Though there is strong preference that it be a clinician.”

“I think the key is someone that is aware of public health issues and the health of the community,” Gray said. “The more important thing is they are able to care for a community.”

Many committee members hope the director will be better able to market and publicize the programs of MIT Medical to students and the rest of the community. “Health Education staff will be reporting to this person, and Medlinks will be part of that,” Jacobs said.

As of yet there is no plan on how the CDCL will act as a liaison between students and administration. “That’s what we’re going to have to figure out,” Jacobs said. “We’d like to have that person figure out the methods to do it and we want this person will be out and about in the community.”

Gray agreed by saying that this will be the person’s most important initial goal. “This person will have to work closely with student groups, living groups, deans’ offices, and counselors’ offices and try to become a member of those teams.”

While the CDCL may have duties similar to that of Dr. Reich, the job will be considerably different. “The Clinical Director may work collaboratively with Reich,” Jacobs said, “but we see this person as spanning all the services of MIT Medical, not just mental health.”

Gray also noted that this position requires active involvement as an MIT Medical staff member. “Hopefully this will not be just an administrative role on campus,” Gray said. “I don’t think we need any more of those.”

Reich continues service to MIT

Reich will maintain his influential role in MIT Mental Health in the coming years, though he says he will “be taking on a different role” in the department. “[My duties] will involve working on trying to understand ways to reach out to students, find ways to address their needs early rather than when they reach the point of needing help, and figuring out the problems before they occur,” he said.

Though no official title has been established for Reich, he said that his main concern will be to “understand how and why” mental health issues develop at MIT.

“While I still will be interested in doing clinical work,” Reich said, “my main goal is collaborating with Dean for Student Life [Larry G. Benedict] and the Medical Department.”

The decision to step down was not linked to the Mental Health Task Force report or the Shin lawsuit. “That’s the reason why I’m staying on,” Reich said.

Reflecting on his time as Mental Health Chief, Reich had nothing but accolades for the mental health services at MIT.

“I really love MIT,” Reich said. “I think the mission of the service to help students here at MIT is the best work you can do as a mental health provider.”

Reich also noted the improvements the department made during his tenure. “I feel like I’ve brought many fine new staff members here and I feel great to work here with them ... We’re achieving a lot here in ways of reaching out to them. We’re increasing our numbers by leaps and bounds,” he said.

Reich has been chief of mental health for 12 years. He is also a Doctor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

New chief to shape strategy

A similar committee is searching for the new Chief of Mental Health to prepare for Reich’s shift. MIT’s advertisement for the position states that the new chief will play a key role in focusing the strategic direction of MIT Medical. The position requires the individual to heavily and thoroughly evaluate the department’s progress. Some duties are to “set clear expectations for staff and conduct regular performance evaluations” and “oversee periodic needs of assessment.”

“Obviously that person has to have administrative skill,” said Professor Ellen Harris, chair of the search committee for chief of mental health. “We are also looking for clinical expertise. As in most areas of the institute, we consider practical hands-on experience important to understanding.”

Other changes to MIT’s mental health program are also coming about as a result of the Mental Health Task Force report. “Staffing at MIT Mental Health service is expected to increase the next year,” said Dr. Kristine A. Girard, Associate Chief of MIT Mental Health service.

“We also expect the introduction of a new system to allow for quicker initial appointments with clinicians, increased education and programming around mental health topics, and community outreach initiatives,” Girard said.

Furthermore, walk-in hours and extended hours for appointments are already being implemented. “The new chief will need to be a person who can lead through such planned changes, listen to the staff and community, and evaluate the need for further change,” Harris said.

Both position appointments as well as the changes to MIT Mental Health are expected to be completed by this summer.