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Nov. 9, 2004

Health and well-being task force issues final report

In a final report issued Nov. 9, the University's Task Force on Health and Well-Being recommended several significant changes in University policies and programs to address the health care needs and promote the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.

Recommendations in the 38-page document include: a substantial increase in the size of the University Health Services staff; major improvements of the facilities at McCosh Health Center and Dillon Gymnasium; and a considerable expansion of the child care opportunities available to members of the University community.

This was the third report issued by the task force, appointed last fall by President Shirley M. Tilghman and chaired by Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life, and Robert Durkee, vice president and secretary of the University. The group, composed of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, released a January 2004 report proposing a set of goals and guidelines and a June 2004 report identifying several major themes and a number of initial findings. All three reports are available on the task force's Web site.

In its initial report, the group summarized the philosophy behind its efforts: "The task force believes that as an educational institution, a residential community and an employer eager to attract, retain and motivate the best possible faculty and staff, Princeton University should seek to provide a campus environment and a range of programs that sustain and enhance the physical, psychological and emotional health of undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, faculty and staff, and that assist them in achieving an appropriate balance between work and personal/family life."

The task force spent the past year assessing existing programs and developing recommendations for needs not currently addressed or those likely to emerge in the future.

While preparing its report, the task force simultaneously worked to support the implementation during the past year of several measures to enhance the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff. These include actions ranging from improving the Student Health Plan prescription drug plan to contracting with a 24 hours-a-day/seven-days-a week employee assistance and work/life counseling program (see "Steps already taken").

"… There is much more that needs to be done if Princeton is to address the needs we were asked to examine and live up to the principles we propose at the beginning of this report," the task force states in its final report. "The agenda we present … is extensive and ambitious. We recognize that a number of our proposals require additional work or substantial resources before they can go forward, and that everything we propose cannot happen at once. At the same time, we hope that the University will take as many steps as it can as quickly as it can."

Major recommendations

The task force lays out proposals in seven categories (see "Major recommendations") overarching recommendations regarding communications; recommendations addressing the health care needs, and promoting the health and well-being, of students through the Student Health Plan and University Health Services; recommendations addressing the health, well-being and work/life balance of members of the faculty and staff; recommendations in the areas of fitness and nutrition that help meet the needs of students, faculty and staff; recommendations regarding critical facilities needs at McCosh Health Center and Dillon Gym; and recommendations regarding child care.

In the area of student needs, the task force recommended improving coverage provided through the Student Health Plan, which enrolls about 45 percent of undergraduates and all graduate students. It also calls for the addition of approximately 11 full-time-equivalent staff positions in University Health Services to provide critical services and programs to students.

"In our January and April reports, we documented the significant, growing and too-often unmet demands on University Health Services for medical and counseling services, particularly in the areas of mental health and urgent outpatient and inpatient medical care," the report states. "… There are many reasons for increasing demand, and Princeton's experience is fully consistent with national trends. Despite these dramatic increases in demand and rising health care costs, Princeton's health services staffing has remained relatively constant over the past decade and its health services budget (now $6.7 million, or approximately 0.78 percent of the University's operating budget -- a lower percentage than a decade ago) is not sufficient to support an adequate health services program. While we believe that the quality of medical and mental health services provided at UHS is first rate, Princeton is not in the top ranks among its peers when it comes to the amount and ease of access to care. …"

The group recommended increasing the student health fee by $300 to $400 to fund improvements in the Student Health Plan and additional health center staffing. It noted that Princeton's health plan fee, at $810 per year, is well below the comparable fee at peer institutions ($1,568 at Brown and $1,708 at Penn). A fee of $1,100 would pay for proposed improvements in the health plan and generate more than $400,000 in additional funding, and a fee of $1,200 would generate more than $550,000.

Regarding facilities, the task force noted the high degree of interest in fitness activities at Dillon Gym expressed by students, faculty and staff in surveys, focus groups and other comments. Members of the University community also commented on the facility's shortcomings, including the need for better equipment, longer hours and improved maintenance.

The task force recommended the continuation of a program already started to improve maintenance as well as the expansion of hours at Dillon and efforts to increase awareness of the fitness and intramural sports programs it offers. In addition, the group called for the consideration of a significant renovation and expansion of Dillon "in concert with an assessment of how best to meet the future space needs of University Health Services."

The task force stated that McCosh and Dillon are "straining at the seams" and will face increasing demands in the near future with the planned expansion of Princeton's undergraduate student body by 11 percent in 2007.

"Neither will be able to meet the University's future needs at their current size and configuration," the report said. "This would be true even if the University chose not to expand its commitments to health education and promotion, nutrition, employee health, fitness, wellness or recreation as we have proposed in this report."

The task force asked the University to consider the synergies that could result from closer integration of the kinds of health services and health education programs currently offered at McCosh with the kinds of fitness and physical education programs currently offered at Dillon. "We do not believe that all of these services could or should be offered in one facility, but they could conceivably be offered in nearby, adjacent or linked facilities …," the task force said.

Terming improved access to affordable and high-quality child care among its highest priority recommendations, the task force called for the construction of a facility for a new University-affiliated child care center as well as the construction of another facility to house the current University League and University Now nursery schools. The new center would place particular emphasis on infant and toddler care and also would provide "school's-out" and back-up care to help meet the needs of families when schools are closed for holidays or inclement weather or when regular child care arrangements fall through. The report also recommended expanding the number of spaces available at the two existing programs for children from University-affiliated families.

Additional recommendations related to child care include designating a child care coordinator for the University, developing more and better information about child care programs and providing greater workplace flexibility to permit more attention to child care needs.

The report includes many other recommendations, ranging from revising the staff sick leave policy and expanding the Healthy Eating Lab that opened this fall in the Frist Campus Center to developing communications strategies to improve awareness of programs and services and creating a health promotion/prevention, disease detection, fitness/wellness program for faculty and staff.

Going forward

The report of the Task Force on Health and Well-Being will be discussed by the trustees and the President’s Cabinet, by the Priorities Committee and in various forums with students, faculty and staff, including the Council of the Princeton University Community, undergraduate and graduate student governments, department chairs and the Administrative and Academic Managers Group.

In addition to the recommendations themselves, discussions are expected to focus on funding mechanisms such as student fees, operating budget designations by the Priorities Committee and special fund-raising efforts.

While it signified the completion of the task force's assignment, the report noted the need for others to continue the work. The task force expects the efforts to be carried out by other offices and entities at the University and, in some cases, by groups it has recommended be formed for specific tasks. It also suggested the creation of a group of students, faculty and staff to provide "ongoing assistance and advice in meeting these responsibilities."