Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Q&A with Dr. Maureen Houck

As part of a series, we will be posting several blogs over the course of the next few weeks regarding health and safety at Hofstra. This week, we were able to speak with Dr. Maureen Houck, Director of Hofstra’s Health and Wellness Center, as one of Hofstra’ health care providers. Read what Dr. Houck’s responses were to our health and safety related questions.

1.     If a student receives treatment for an illness at the Health & Wellness Center, does this validate an excused absence from class?

No. My understanding is it’s up to the faculty member to decide what validates an excused absence, and what I tell the faculty and students all the time is to not triangulate that. That’s between the faculty member and the student. I really feel very strongly about that. This is not an issue that just happens on Hofstra’s campus, it happens on every single campus around the world. The only thing Hofstra University’s Health and Wellness Center will do is actually give documentation that a student has been seen. We will not give documentation as to a diagnosis; that’s personal information. It’s not something that we share. If a student wanted a copy of the note, that’s their note. They can do whatever they chose. If they want to share that with a faculty member, that’s their prerogative. But I will not write a note saying please excuse the student from class. It’s up to each faculty member. I am a faculty member, and I’ve actually had one of my notes be given to me as an excuse, so that was quite interesting. A student brought a Health and Wellness Center note to me, and I was like, “Oh, thank you.” But literally they could have been there for a pimple. All it does is document that they were seen that day. The decision is between a faculty member and the student. Every faculty member has on their syllabus what is expected of a student for excused absence in a class.

2.     If a student is indirectly involved in a situation that s/he feels may be dangerous to him/herself or another Hofstra student, how should a student respond? What should be his or her first step?

If it’s something to do with health or psychological or even physical injury, certainly coming to us, to student counseling services, to an RA or RD, or even administration on campus is the first thing. They don’t even have to share their names. Just go to someone and talk to them. If I can’t help them or I’m not the right person, I’ll find someone who can give them that help. It’s probably one of the best things to do. There’s a tremendous amount of resources on this campus and students should utilize these resources.

3.     If a student feels as though s/he or someone else needs emergency medical attention, what should a student do?

Depending on the time of day or the day of the week, certainly call health services. If it is a true emergency, come in. We will triage at that point. Actually, a student walked in this morning. We saw them as quickly as we could because it was a true emergency. The student is being transported to the hospital right now. Some students come in and what they consider a true emergency may not be what my health service staff considers a true emergency and may not be what an emergency department is going to consider a true emergency. But we will certainly triage them. They can come in and be seen by a healthcare provider. They will be either seen directly or given the first available appointment of that day or, if needed, be transported to an emergency department. If it occurs in the middle of the night or hours when we’re not available, what they need to do is call public safety. All our public safety officers are what’s considered first responders, so they can certainly go in and do an initial assessment of the student. Again, if they need to be transported, public safety will either transport or call for an ambulance to transport to the nearest facility.

4.     Can a student get in trouble if s/he calls for help, but is also involved in an activity that s/he shouldn’t be?

No, the most important thing is to call for help. I can’t stress that enough. That’s the most important thing to do. We’re here to help you. We don’t always make the best choices in situations so please don’t put anyone’s life in danger because you’re concerned you might get in trouble. It’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it.

5.     In light of the Ebola crisis coming to domestic grounds, what advice would you give students of Hofstra? Should students and families be worried?

The chance of someone contracting Ebola in the general population of the United States is very, very small. The people here in the United States who have contracted Ebola were nurses who took care of a patient with Ebola. They were the nurses who took care of him when he was extremely ill, taking care of him in the intensive care unit when he was shedding virus at fantastic rates. He was probably putting out greater than 10 liters of bodily fluids a day. By that I mean vomit, diarrhea, blood, and excretion. He was intubated. They were suctioning tremendous, tremendous amounts of bodily fluids. The physician who is New York City in Bellevue was one of the doctors who worked with Doctors Without Borders. And again, he worked with severely ill people in direct contact with them. He is being isolated and there are nurses and physicians and respiratory therapists that have volunteered to take care of him at Bellevue. They are under tremendous procedures and policies taking care of him at this point.  So the chance of the general population getting it is really very small. People will Ebola are not contagious until they are symptomatic. The symptoms are usually fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, hemorrhaging. Then, as they get more ill, the symptoms become more severe. People need to take into consideration that the gentleman in Texas who died was living in an apartment with his fiancé and her children prior to going into the hospital. And none of them got sick. He was in an apartment with them. Those people are fine and healthy even though he had fevers of 100 and 103 at the time. It was the people who took care of him when he was severely ill with the virus that are the ones who got sick. So, I don’t think the general population of Hofstra University nor the United States really have a whole lot to fear.

6.     Do you have protocols in place if something of this nature were to affect someone of the Hofstra community?

Absolutely. We have worked out, just as we did a number of years ago for H1N1, an entire protocol, policies and procedures for the entire university. We have personal protective equipment for not only our staff but for public safety. We have plans in place for our students. We have everything ready. Not that we want to use it, but we do have it.

7.     Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Hofstra Community?

I’d like them all to get their flu shots. They all have greater chances of catching influenza at this point than they do of Ebola. 37,000 Americans die of seasonal influenza every year, and that doesn’t include all the other people that get ill. I do have flu vaccines so if they’d like to have it done, they can call and make an appointment. We do it seven days a week for our students. It’s only $10 and $20 for staff and faculty. So give us a call. I’d be very happy to give them their vaccine.


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