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Gloria Tso / Senior Staff Photographer

Associate vice president and medical director Melanie Bernitz is working to expand student access to health care at Columbia.

Medical Services will now offer hormone therapy for transgender and gender-nonconforming students as part of a pilot program launched this semester. The therapy, implemented by newly-appointed Associate Vice President and Medical Director Melanie Bernitz, will also be covered by the University’s insurance plans.

The availability of hormone therapy comes as Bernitz begins to restructure Columbia Health in an effort to increase student access to health resources, cater to a broader range of students, and establish health as a mainstay of undergraduate academic life.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage students to take a positive and proactive approach to health and wellness … and to start using the resources that are out there and helping us understand what other resources are needed,” Bernitz said.

Bernitz became Associate Vice President and Medical Director on August 1 after serving as the interim director since Sam Seward left the position in February. Before that, Bernitz served as Executive Director of Student Health Services at the Columbia University Medical Center.

Since stepping into her interim role in February, Bernitz has begun implementing programs that move Columbia Health from a “sick model” to a “well model,” expanding beyond primarily offering treatment of illnesses. Bernitz said she aims to shift students’ perception of the office by expanding resources—like hormone therapy—and making clinicians more immediately available.

To accomplish the latter, Medical Services began piloting a same-day appointment system this summer under which students can only schedule appointments within the next 18 hours. This system will remain in effect in the coming term.

Medical Services also did away with its urgent care unit last spring, making clinicians who were formerly reserved for urgent care available for all general same-day appointments. This has increased the availability of appointment slots, according to Bernitz.

Efforts to increase clinicians’ availability will be aided by Campus Services’ creation of positions for six new health professionals this fall, including three psychologists, one registered nurse, and a disability services coordinator.

In addition, Counseling and Psychological Services offices on the fifth floor of Lerner Hall were renovated over the summer, allowing for the housing of new staff members and an additional office for after-hours drop-ins. Rooms were also soundproofed to protect student privacy.

“This allows us, number one, to house new staff members and add office space,” Bernitz said. “The design really takes into account confidentiality and privacy concerns. The environment is really beautifully done and very well designed in terms of making this as comfortable for students as possible.”

aaron.holmes@columbiaspectator.com | @AaronPHolmes

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