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Cape Breton University’s new medical advisory committee confronts barriers to student health and well-being

A group of CBU administrators and local physicians aim to improve access to health care at the provincial and municipal levels, while also improving health services on campus.

BY MICHAEL RANCIC | MAR 08 2021

Cape Breton University has formed a medical advisory committee to advocate for better access to health care for students. Assembled by university president David C. Dingwall, the newly formed advisory committee is made up of health experts across a wide range of disciplines as well as university administrators and staff.

“We thought, who can we bring together to help inform some of our policies … [and] infrastructure but also help us with advocacy and helping students access the care that they need?” explains Judy Kelley, CBU’s manager of health and counselling services. Ms. Kelley worked with president Dingwall in the development of the committee and also serves on it.

She sits alongside CBU president Dingwall, chief of staff Shauna Kelly, director of student affairs John Mayich, associate vice-president (academic and research) Tanya Brann-Barrett, as well as local physicians Andrew Lynk, Chris Lata, RJ MacKenzie, Yvonne Libbus and Reggie Sebastian.

“President Dingwall understands that health and the well-being of our students, staff and faculty is really one of the most urgent things on everybody’s mind now,” says Ms. Kelley. “Even before the pandemic, we knew that staff health and the health of the greater community is affected by the health of the campus as a whole. Having lots of resources for people in the community to keep them healthy is imperative.” Mr. Dingwall served as federal health minister under Jean Chretien from 1996 to 1997.

The advisory committee is set to meet virtually eight times over the course of the year, and will discuss adding programs and infrastructure to the university’s Max Bell Health Centre that Ms. Kelley oversees, best practices for those programs and care, as well as link students to the appropriate resources. The committee will also advise the university on its COVID-19 response.

One of the primary concerns of the committee will be to advocate for the university’s international student population, a cohort steadily on the rise and largely responsible for the increase in the island’s overall population.

“We have a lot of students that are here in Canada for the first time. They travelled from other countries to study on our campus. Manoeuvering the Canadian health-care system is not always that simple, and we’re definitely seeing some barriers to care. Being that advocate for this particular demographic of people and trying to help them get the care that they need and deserve is a real priority,” Ms. Kelley states.

She says that it currently takes new residents 13 months to access Nova Scotia’s Medical Services Insurance, so international students need to purchase emergency travel insurance while studying in the province, which is expensive and tends to exclude most preventative forms of medicine.

Ms. Kelley sees the advisory committee as an integral part of the university’s culture moving forward. “If we’re taking care of people appropriately and giving them access to good health care, then it builds the confidence of the students, of the staff and faculty, and also the confidence of the greater community.”

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