One student, unhappy with the response she got after reporting what she says is a ‘body-shaming’ incident at Health and Counseling Services, has taken her concerns to the State Medical Licensing Board.
Susannah Sinard, a senior marketing major, always had positive experiences going to Health and Counseling Services in the past with her regular doctor.
However, this changed on Thursday, March 8, when she made an appointment to change her birth control brand. The doctor Sinard usually saw was not available, so instead, she scheduled an appointment with a different health provider that day.
Sinard said this appointment started at 9 a.m. After her vitals were taken, the nurse practitioner Sinard was scheduled to see walked in.
In an account she wrote about the incident, Sinard said when the nurse practitioner walked in, she had her “mouth gaped open” and said, “Oh my gosh … how much do you weigh?”
“She stared at me for two minutes, straight up and down, and it made me feel so weird,” Sinard said in an interview with The News. “She was like, ‘Your body mass index, your body type is like a third grader, do you realize that?’ and I was like, ‘I’m 21.’”
In the account, Sinard wrote that instead of asking her for more information on her weight, the nurse practitioner “persisted to judge (her).”
The nurse practitioner left the room, and when she did, Sinard could hear her talking to other people behind the door, with them saying things like “She’s so thin; I can’t believe it; I’m in shock.”
“I don’t know — it’s just very personal,” Sinard said. “I don’t think there needs to be a whole office-wide discussion about this.”
According to Sinard, the nurse practitioner told her she had an eating disorder, something Sinard said previous doctors have never asked her about or suggested to her.
The nurse practitioner also insisted that Sinard was depressed.
“When I refused depression medication from her, she said, ‘So, you just want to stay depressed for the rest of your life?’” Sinard said. “I was like, ‘I’m not depressed.’”
Sinard said she is never going back to Health and Counseling Services again.
Though Sinard said the way the nurse practitioner spoke to her implied that she was concerned, “there’s a line between concern and judgment, and she crossed it.”
Sinard said she never wants anyone else to be in this kind of situation.
“No matter if someone’s too thin or overweight, I don’t want them to feel backlash when they should be comfortable in that space talking to a doctor,” Sinard said. “People don’t understand how their words affect people, especially impressionable, college-aged women.”
After this initial appointment, Sinard ended up setting up a meeting with Eric Davidson, interim director of Health and Counseling Services, and the nurse practitioner she saw, to talk about her concerns.
When she went into Health Service for a meeting with Eric Davidson and the nurse practitioner, Sinard had a laptop that had her notes in it from the previous appointment with her.
“(The nurse practitioner) walks in and she’s like, ‘You can’t have your laptop or phone in here … this is an invasion of my privacy,” Sinard said. “She said, ‘I’ll just let you two (Sinard and Davidson) deal with it,’ and she left the room.”
Sinard was told by Davidson that she would not be allowed to keep her laptop in there and that she would not be allowed to record the meeting. Sinard said she was then told to leave and write an essay about her complaint and email it to Davidson.
“(Davidson) was trying to take a neutral position on everything, but once I couldn’t record my conversation and he told me I couldn’t tell my story and be in the room, it felt like he was already taking the (nurse practitioner’s) side,” Sinard said.
That Friday, Sinard said Davidson told her to give him her written account on the incident and he would look at it.
“I sent it to him and he said, ‘Oh, I didn’t have time to look at it today, I won’t have time until Tuesday, you might hear from us by the end of next week,’” Sinard said. “I was just thinking we had time scheduled, and I was going to be there for an hour to talk about this. He couldn’t even read my account and give me the time of day. I just really think that they’re trying to put it on the back burner.”
The nurse practitioner Sinard saw did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Davidson said via email to The News that he would not entertain “any questions relating to any specific student experience at either the medical or counseling clinics.”
“It is inappropriate for me to discuss any matters related to a specific individual’s specific treatment or care for a variety of reasons,” he said in the email.
HOW THE UNIVERSITY DEALS WITH STUDENT CONCERNS
Davidson said the best method for students to bring up a concern they have with Health and Counseling Services is during the visit, directly with their provider, in hopes of getting it addressed there.
“Outside of the visit, most students will either informally present a concern in-person or by phone or email, and then will be directed a supervisor or to me, the Health and Counseling Services Interim Director,” Davidson wrote.
Once this happens, Davidson will either informally speak with the individual by phone or in a one-on-one meeting.
“Many times, those with issues or complaints just want the medical clinic administration to be aware of a concern or incident. An assurance that the matter will be reviewed is usually enough to satisfy those with a concern or complaint,” he said. “If the matter is complex or can not be resolved by an informal conversation or meeting, the individual may be asked to submit a formally written complaint.”
When the investigation is completed, a formal response is sent to the complainant outlining its findings.
“Overall, the majority of students seeking care through Health and Counseling Services are satisfied and happy with the quality of care they receive; this statement is validated through the patient satisfaction surveys we have administered,” Davidson said in the email. “There will always be a handful of individuals who bring concerns to us; the greater majority of these will be addressed in a fashion that brings a satisfactory conclusion. However, there will be times in which an investigation’s findings and results will not meet the complainant’s level of satisfaction.”
If this is the case, Davidson said the complainant could approach the vice president for student affairs regarding their grievance.
Lynette Drake, interim vice president for student affairs, declined to comment on this specific case, and said she cannot confirm or deny, or even “acknowledge whether or not that even happened.”
Each department on campus has different processes to handle student complaints or concerns they might have, Drake said.
She said any time there is a general concern about any of the services within student affairs, it is always best if that concern is handled within the department.
“In most areas, (there’s not) a formal appeal process per se,” Drake said. “There’s people they can talk to about the concern, and then there can be an official university complaint filed.”
Drake said about 99 percent of student concerns can be handled within the department.
“If that doesn’t happen, depending on what it is, some of those concerns have very specific processes that are created within policies of the university to be managed that way, so depending on what it is, that concern can come to me for my consideration as well,” Drake said, though she added that they rarely come to this level.
She acknowledged that not all complaints could be resolved to a student’s satisfaction.
“Hopefully, a resolution (can happen). Sometimes that’s not possible (but) that’s the goal … is to try to create understanding,” Drake said.
SINARD’S FINAL RESPONSE
On March 30, Sinard received a letter from Davidson regarding her written complaint and the investigation into it, during which Davidson spoke further with the nurse practitioner Sinard saw.
According to the letter, which included a summary of findings from the investigation, “the provider reports that based on your vitals (weight, BMI) recorded during that visit, she had professional, ethical and legal obligations to bring her concerns regarding your weight to your attention.”
“These obligations are no different than those regarding other issues as tobacco use, hypertension, obesity, etc,” the letter went on to say.
The summary of findings also included a statement saying that “the way in which (the nurse practitioner) presented her concerns was offensive to you, and you were not appreciative of her ‘bedside’ manner.”
The letter, from Davidson, then stated that the provider “understands (Sinard’s) complaints and concerns” and asked Sinard to “please accept my apology that the manner in which concerns were communicated to you fell short of your expectations.”
In an email reply to Davidson, Sinard wrote that she appreciated his apology for her treatment at the Medical Clinic, but said it was the nurse practitioner who owed her one.
Sinard told Davidson if she did not receive a face-to-face apology from her by April 8, she would report the nurse practitioner to the state medical licensing board.
Sinard said to The News that she has done this, but has yet to hear from the board.
Davidson’s response to Sinard made her feel “really ignored and powerless,” she said.
“I am so incredibly hurt by their response,” Sinard said. “They took nothing in my account seriously.”
Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]