Colleges and Universities: The blueprint for DEI and healthcare innovation in the workplace?

by Sarah Gunter 

In the search for new healthcare solutions, we turned away from the workplace and towards the campus. Centers of higher education have often been on the forefront of innovation—with access to cutting edge research, a highly educated populace, and out-of-the-box thinking, it’s no wonder that colleges and universities are some of the first to embrace new technologies. For insight into the landscape of healthcare in higher education, we interviewed Mary McConner, a DEI professional with a long history in education, and Michael Haffey, an executive at LifeOmic, a healthcare solution that’s been adopted at several schools, including Butler University.


McConner, who recently founded her own Diversity Equity and Inclusion consulting firm after serving as the VP for DEI at Christian Brother’s University, explains that there are some differences between higher ed institutions and the workplace: “Universities and Colleges, they serve a very specific group. They serve students, and so the way they engage with students is going to be a lot different than how a CEO of a major corporation engages with people in their organization.”


However, we found that the similarities are vast when it comes to the issues both organizations face. These include making mental health resources accessible amidst a rising demand, meeting the needs of a diverse population, integrating interdepartmental silos, and understanding the benefits of multi-generational diversity.


Mental Health


Campuses, like workplaces, are seeing a surge in demand for mental health resources. Haffey explains that schools have been appreciative of LifeOmic for helping to take some of the strain off of overburdened campus health and counseling centers. “Colleges are being asked to provide mental and behavioral health counseling services to their student base, and what's happening is there's a huge backlog in access to those on campus counselors. So, what we've been able to do is effectively bring a virtual solution that will complement the existing on-site counseling solutions,” Haffey says.


According to McConner, mental health is intrinsically tied to DEI. Inclusion often relates to what mental health professionals do, as therapists and counselors work to help their patients learn how to feel a sense of belonging. Health equity also overlaps with mental health, as certain illnesses and diseases disproportionately impact underserved communities. Looking at mental health from a DEI standpoint means making sure mental health resources are accessible for the most marginalized populations, who are often the most impacted by mental and physical health issues.


Discussing Butler University’s recent adoption of LifeOmic, Haffey explains, “The reason they selected LifeOmic to be their vendor of choice is because we combine not only access to mental health and behavioral health professionals, but also our holistic approach to lifestyle care that focuses on the five pillars of health, which are nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, sleep, and intermittent fasting. It's the combination of those five things that will allow that individual student that maybe is having challenges with mental or behavioral health, to adapt the lifestyle approach that will help mitigate those problems.”


Departmental Silos


Another issue facing campuses and workplaces alike is departmental integration. “We do struggle with this quite a bit in higher education, as we have a lot of silos internally. You'll have the health services department over here, and then you have student affairs, you have academic affairs, you have enrollment, and then of course, you have your outside community partners,” says McConner. “But I think when we all collaborate and work together, and say, okay, these are some of the bigger initiatives we need to focus on as a whole, it becomes a lot easier to implement.”


Haffey describes a similar situation in the workplace: “What's happening in the market is more and more businesses have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) on one end, and then on the other side, they have their health plan, and there is no filling of that void.”


That’s why LifeOmic is geared toward listening to the needs of an organization without disrupting what they’re currently doing, but instead providing solutions that add and improve on existing programs to fill the gaps. Through their apps, counselors and coaches can guide employees towards their organization’s EAP, although only around 10% of employees find they need the EAP after access to LifeOmic’s resources.


McConner also emphasizes that colleges themselves operate as silos in their communities. She believes there is opportunity in partnering with local organizations from a community engagement standpoint. For the community-conscious workplace, vendors like LifeOmic provide the freedom and flexibility to partner with local organizations, as well as the oversight to make sure that all of the players and pieces of a health plan are integrated seamlessly.


Multi-generational Diversity


In developing a platform that activates precision health and wellness, LifeOmic has kept their finger on the pulse where it comes to the youngest generations. This is reflected in the success of their Life Apps, which have over 4.2 million downloads--Haffey estimates about 1.5% of the U.S. population is using the apps regularly. Young people especially are becoming more concerned about taking care of their health, Haffey explains.


The app’s success is also due to how it’s designed the user experience. Students and employees are allowed to encourage their families and friends to download and join the Life Extend app at no cost, driving user engagement. Users then can form social circles through the app to communicate about the things they’re doing to improve their health. Where most wellness apps only encourage logging in, not changing lifestyle habits, LifeOmic uses Life Points to rewards users for healthy lifestyle choices. “We’re gamifying healthy behavior that moves people in the right direction. On the corporate wellness side, we can incentivize financially for those kinds of behaviors,” Says Haffey.


Although McConner credits colleges and universities for being receptive to different views and novel ideas, she also says that in her experience, they’ve been slow to evolve. “We've operated in a certain way for a long time. Now we’re forced to wake up to the fact that today's students want something completely different,” Says McConner. “What worked for students in the 1950s is not working for the millennials and for the generations beyond that.”


In considering the populations they serve, campuses like Butler University are increasingly valuing multigenerational diversity. McConner advises workplaces to do the same: “I would encourage other organizations to really understand, not just people who work maybe at the senior level, or mid-level, but also understand the younger generations that come in, and some of the different ideas and thoughts that they have, because these are going to be your future leaders, and you never know who may have the next best idea. You have to be willing to embrace young people, too.”


If your organization’s wellness plan could use some rejuvenation,
check out LifeOmic on The Granite List.




Posts by Tag

See all