Guiding Students to a Healthy College Experience

Meet Kathy Maloney, Director of Health Services at the University


For Kathy Maloney, Director of Health Services, it has been 11 years of transforming students from adolescence to adulthood in terms of their health.

She’s cared for patients withdrawing from heroin, struggling from rape, sick with the stomach bug, and facing a variety of physical and mental health problems. She says, “We have had it all. We never really know what comes through the door.”

However, there is one event that Maloney said absolutely takes the cake.

She describes it as the “Pinewood Illness.” “A few years back, two girls [residents of Pinewood Hall at the time] came into the office with the most horrible looking throats. Red, swollen, horrible looking. Then, they started to break out in rashes all over. Itchy, itchy, itchy rashes. We could not figure out what it was. Then all of a sudden, other people on the same floor of Pinewood started having similar symptoms. And before you know it, it was almost the entire floor. We didn’t know if it was something in the floors, or something in the vents. The Department of Health was here and Facilities Management did testing of the vents.”

Everything seemed to be better when people were not on that floor in Pinewood, Maloney remembers. “People would get better when they went home, and got worse when they came back. Then we started to do a diagram,” she explains, tracing a chart with her finger on her desk. “We plotted out the rooms, and what happened was the girls in the center room had the worst symptoms, and as you went further out, those girls had less symptoms. And no one could figure out what was going on.”

Time passed, and Maloney says she started hearing things through the grapevine, and it was confirmed that the girls with the worst symptoms were “spoofing.” “They had been smoking marijuana, and had this paper towel roll that they put dryer sheets inside, and they would exhale into there so it would mask the smell. They also had fans set up around the room, and the fans had dryer sheets on them to also mask the smell. What they didn’t realize was that the fans were going 24/7, and then we found out that the chemicals in the dryer sheets were aerosolizing and being distributed down the hallway.” This explained why the females in the center of the hall, who were directly inhaling the chemicals from the dryer sheets, had worse symptoms than those further down the hall.

“That was really the strangest thing, because it made us look at things from an epidemiological perspective,” Maloney says. Once the fans were shut off and the dryer sheets were removed, Maloney smiles and said “everybody was fine.”

Maloney explains that one of her primary responsibilities as Director is to ensure the students receive good, quality care. “That’s really my main job, but that also involves oversight of clinical staff, clerical staff, records, and compliance with state regulations for immunizations,” she lists. She also has a direct role in the student health insurance that is offered, adding that she tries to conduct all of these tasks “in a timely fashion and professional manner.”

In the last decade, a number of changes have been implemented in Health Services. “We started to do on-site testing, rapid testing of mono, strep, and pregnancy,” Maloney says. She also includes expanded hours, the ability to give IV fluids, having substance counseling, the addition of a psychiatrist, and the expansion of being a clinical teaching site as alterations to Health Services.

Additionally, she takes a special interest in the freshmen, “who are really just learning to be their own advocates of their healthcare. They’ve never had to make a healthcare decision by themselves because their parents always have [done it for them]. We help to educate them about their health, so that as they go through their four plus years here, they learn how to take care of themselves.”

Jim Pillar, Associate Vice President for Student Services, says that Maloney is committed to providing MU students with quality ambulatory care. “She has assembled a staff of professionals that are dedicated to our students. In addition to offering day to day care for various reasons, Kathy and members of her department work hard to promote wellness on campus.”

One of the highlights of Maloney’s job, she says, revolves around direct-patient care with the college population. “They’re my favorite age group. I love the interaction, where they are at that cusp in their life, and it’s really fun to see the successes that come through. I think everybody looks at us here and thinks physical health, but you know, we’re all nurse practitioners and we deal holistically with our patients, so we’re looking at them not just from a physical health; a mental health perspective. We’ve seen people come in who were very unstable, physically, mentally and to see them succeed and, in May, walk across the stage is wonderful to see. It’s nice. For us, it’s an internal reward.”

Health Services also consists of clinical rotations with University graduate students, who gain their experience by working in the facility and work closely with Maloney who teaches them and evaluates their skills. She also oversees pediatric residents from Jersey Shore Medical Center who come to the Health Center for experience.

In addition to a psychiatrist, Maloney gets additional help from other departments on campus. “Counseling [and Psychological Services] and I work like this,” she smiles, interlocking two of her fingers. “We are in constant contact with each other.” Substance Awareness also plays a role, and reports to Maloney. “The challenge has been, over the years, that students coming in are far more complex in terms of their needs, so there’s more of a need for all of us to work collaboratively and have really close communication.”

Prior to coming to Monmouth, she served as the Director of Education for JFK Medical Center/ Solaris Health System for 13 years. Other past jobs include a staff nurse at Monmouth Medical Center and an adjunct at Brookedale Community College. She also helped run a CPR training company, and was employed at Albert Laboratories. She has practiced as a nurse in Boston at Children’s Hospital and a Georgetown hospital in Washington, D.C.

For her college years, she attended Georgetown University for her undergraduate and then George Washington University for her MBA.

When she first started at the University, Maloney explains it was in the position of administrative director of clinical operations, differing from her past positions. She first started as a Registered Nurse Director with an MBA, later getting her advanced practice nursing license.

It’s been a challenging ride for Maloney, as she also deals with criticism from students. Rather than being treated by nurse practitioners on campus, many students feel more comfortable going to their own M.D. where they can be treated with antibiotics.

Maloney refutes, “We practice evidence-based medicine. We go by the latest research; we go by the latest findings. We do a heck of a lot of lab work to validate what we’re doing in terms of prescribing. For some folks, it’s very difficult to hear, ‘what you have is viral.’ People are used to going to their doctor and saying ‘I’m sick’ and they’ll give you an antibiotic. We don’t subscribe to that. A lot of doctors do that because they’re trying to keep their client-base. For us, we practice good medicine.”

Maloney continues to tell students, “give yourself some time and it will go away. But everyone wants that immediate fix. When you really think about it, 75 percent of what you see is viral.”

One of the more recent viruses, norovirus, became an outbreak at New Jersey colleges such as Rider University and Princeton University. After MU sent out a health alert in February, Maloney noted the campus did not have an outbreak. “We had an uptick of a stomach bug before spring break, but that is totally different than what happened at Rider.”

With every job comes a challenge or two. What Maloney often deals with is privacy and confidentiality of the students. “You might think that’s not hard, but it really is when you have students that are coming in that you know are doing drugs. I can’t tell anybody. It’s a ‘Who gave who herpes?’ kind of thing. We really take privacy and confidentiality seriously.”

Maloney explains the difficulties of parents consistently calling the office, wanting to know information about their children. “They get angry. We don’t have a blanket form that says ‘sign here and let the parents know everything’ because we have found that sure, it’s okay for Mom and Dad to know you have a sore throat but then all of a sudden, you have bacterial vaginosis.”

Another short-term challenge relates to compliances with state regulations with immunizations. “As a department, we are here to give care, and yet, we’re here in an immunization policing kind of way, so that’s hard for people to understand.” After Janelle Moorehead, a then first-year student, passed away in January 2011 from meningitis, Maloney says, “Had that happened on our campus, you want to make sure that everybody has been immunized that is supposed to be immunized.”

A long-term struggle, Maloney insists, is the need to move towards a tech-savvy way of operating, including electronic medical records. “The rest of the world is going that way. We work with paper, paper charts, and the only way students can communicate with us is through paper. I mean, there are systems out there where you can scan your documents in from home, get reviewed and go right into the system. It’s amazing what’s out there. Our EKG machine died. They don’t make the little boxes with the strip coming out anymore. Everything is EKG downloads, so I can’t even use that.”

Challenge number two, she adds, is how they function on a patient-care model. “We’ve really chopped up the human body, where the head belongs kind of over there to Counseling, the rest of the body here and Substance is somewhere in limbo, and I would like us to move toward a wellness model. I think the time has really come.” She explains this model to be more of a care-planning model, instead of the three departments being segmented, as she calls it.

Outside Health Services, Maloney keeps herself busy with two teenagers. Her face lights up when she speaks of her children: a daughter who dances and a son who plays lacrosse. She is the designated STD lecturer for her church, and interviews students for admission at Georgetown University. To relax, she enjoys taking walks and traveling to places where she can snorkel.

Maloney encourages students to take advantage of facilities such as Health Services while they’re still attending. “Students don’t realize what they have here until they leave. And I hear that all that time when they come back, when they realize they need to make doctor appointments, get blood work done, worry about copays, etc. They have no idea, they really don’t,” she smiles.

PHOTO COURTESY of Jenna Intersimon