Health Center candidates introduce themselves, ideas

Erin Baldwin.

Sarah Muller

Iowa State has been on the lookout for a new director for Thielen Student Health Center. Below are interviews with the two finalists, Erin Baldwin and Shelley O’Connell.

Erin Baldwin

Erin Baldwin, candidate for the Thielen Student Health Center director position and current chief operating officer at Mahaska Health Partnership, was born and raised in Clarinda, Iowa. She started her first two years of college at Iowa State before transferring to the University of Kansas to earn her bachelor’s degree in respiratory care.

Following school, she took on a position at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics as a respiratory therapist before returning to school for her master’s degree in health and administration and public health. After graduating in 2006, Baldwin took a job as an administrative fellow at Allina Hospitals & Clinics, the largest health system in Minnesota.

After four years, she had the opportunity to advance her career as chief operating officer at Mahaska Health Partnership, where she is responsible for all medical groups.

Why did you want to apply for the director of Iowa State’s Student Health Center?

“I have really enjoyed the work I’ve done at William Penn University and establishing their campus clinic. This would be a really nice opportunity to use the skills I have in terms of clinic management and all those support department management. [I thought] what a fun opportunity to get to work with students and make an impact on how they access health care.”

What were your initial thoughts on the health center report?

“I guess the one thing I was impressed with right away was the fact that the University made that transparent to the public. I think that’s important that they recognize that our student body has grown so much in size and this has impacted significantly the Student Health Center and the access students have there and a lot of the other services on campus.

“Initially, I thought this is the same type of problems that the rest of primary care clinics are seeing and the rest of the state of Iowa and across the country right now. There really is a shortage of primary care providers and access.”

How do you plan on addressing the issues?

“I think it would be first sitting down with the other leadership that are involved with the Health Center at Iowa State and really understanding what’s been done. […] Then what would be the focus areas that they would want the permanent director to work on right away.

“It’s looking at all different strategies of how we can address better access to students. Then it would be working through the rest of the areas identified on that report based on collaboration based on the Iowa State leadership and what their preference and vision is for how they want to see that happen.”

What past experience is going to be beneficial for you in this job?

“In my position at Primary Health Care and my current position at Mahaska Health Partnership, both of those entities we had challenges getting patients access to primary care services. I think some of the tactics used in those avenues would correlate directly to this position at the Student Health Center.”

What are some plans you have for the health center that are not related to the report?

“One thing that I talked a little bit about in the presentation was looking at medical home certification for the Student Health Center. That’s a pretty well-known model in the regular industry now. I think it would be really starting to dig into how could we achieve that patient-centered medical home certification for the Student Health Center at Iowa State.”

 What is your leadership style?

“I consider myself a very collaborative leader, very open-door policy. It’s really focusing on communication and being transparent in communications, those relationships and then involving the people who do the work on a day-to-day basis in how we establish work flow or how we establish problems […] so we can make the right decisions for our patients.”

How would you work with faculty and students?

“I think one of the values of this position is based on the organizational structure that [the director is] a part of the Student Affairs Cabinet. It would be important to me to get to know the other leaders throughout Iowa State, so that if there’s a problem, you have a face with the name that you can go and talk with that person.”

What would the future of the Health Center look like if you received this position?

“Ultimately just making sure that it’s a place that students have confidence in. [Students can] know they are going to get good care and that we can really become that medical home for them when they are a student at Iowa State.”

Shelley O’Connell

Working in healthcare for approximately 28 years, Shelley O’Connell, current executive director of health and recreation services at the University of Northern Iowa, started her career as a receptionist at a family practice doctor’s office.

She earned a bachelor of science in psychology from Upper Iowa University in 2003 and a master’s degree in post-secondary education from UNI in 2007. For the past 14 years, she has worked in what she says is the most rewarding environment, which is college health.

What interested you in the job?

“I’m very familiar with several of the positions, a lot of the nursing staff and the administrative staff as well. The University of Iowa, ISU and UNI [student health clinics] meet annually and we go through what’s going on in [the universities’] world and what can we help each other with. It’s been this really wonderful collaborative relationship.”

What were your initial thoughts on the Health Center report?

“I found it to be very thorough. If this were to be any other institution, some of the findings would be similar. Relationship issues are always a big thing when you work in a huge environment.

“Leadership — the fact that they didn’t have a consistent director for the last year, that’s hard. We were in a similar position [at UNI] before I became the director. We went a year without having a director. I’ve walked in their shoes, so I know how that feels.”

What past experience is going to be beneficial for you in this job?

“The financial part of [the Keeling Health Report] to me was very intriguing. That’s actually more of my background. My background is more in health care financing. The management part of it, that’s what I do on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been in a management role for 14 years here at UNI.”

What are some plans you have for the Health Center that are not related to the report?

“The first thing that you have to do is you have to go in and establish yourself with the staff. That is building relationships. I use a lot of ‘we’ statements. This is a ‘we’ situation; it’s a collaborative relationship.

“I have to get to know them, see how the workflow goes to get a good understanding of how things work there before we can really hammer out where we do we we want to go.”

How do you plan on addressing the issues?

“I’m very transparent. If we are going down the path, you’re going to know why we are going down the path, who is on the path, where the path leads to and eventually what’s at the end of the path.

“I’m very collaborative with the leadership team I have. I’m not afraid to ask the questions and hear the answers. Having that opportunity to gain feedback from the staff is going to be crucial in the success of it later.”

What would be your first priority if given the director position?

“It’s going to be the health care financing. We need to know what type of money we have in order to have a good understanding of what direction that we are even able to go, with staffing, with purchasing of equipment [and] just the funding of the Thielen Student Health Center.

“The second thing I would do, we need to restore the reputation of the Thielen Student Health Center. We need to make certain the students understand that we have quality staff who are there and want to provide treatment for them.”

What is your leadership style?

“I would say that it’s along the lines of transparent and transformational. I currently have a leadership team, which I know they have Thielen Health Center — I would work with them. Ultimately, we are here to help the students succeed and to help them to be healthy and stay at class.”

How would you work with faculty and students?

“I think with the students, the key is to have them understand the services that we do provide and to listen to them. I know access is a huge issue. I think you have a building that was built for a capacity of 28,000 [students] and now you have 36,000. How can we best utilize the building?

“One of the things that we have done here is instead of canceling the class, having someone come in and talk to the class. Utilizing staff to come in and talk about the Student Health Center and the opportunities we have [and] the different types of services.”

What would the future of the Health Center look like if you received this position?

“I think it would look very bright. I think my style is to hit the ground running. My thought would be to jump right in and do some evaluation with the staff, having some great communication with the senior vice president’s office as far as staffing [and] working with the budgeting office.”