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Healthcare Roundtable

April 19, 2021 - 6 minute read

Catherine Sinardi, Ed.D. MFT

Concordia University Irvine’s Director of Healthcare Programs Dr. Catherine Sinardi participated in a Q&A with Healthcare Professionals for the Orange County Business Journal. Take a look at her answers, extracted from the full OCBJ article

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked new ways of thinking and approaching long-standing problems. How has the pandemic accelerated some of your initiatives?

Securing a wide variety of internships, capstone projects, and clinical sites has long been a focus for the healthcare programs at Concordia University Irvine. The pandemic restricted access to hospitals and other healthcare settings, and a limited number of students secured remote internships. Reimagining fieldwork afforded greater flexibility to explore new and different avenues for students to gain valuable experience. Our nursing students continued their educational hours through virtual simulation and virtual patient care. We discovered a myriad of remote options for professional development activities, including hosting virtual workshops for our students with industry experts from all over the country.

A shifted focus to addressing community health needs during this crisis led to invaluable real-world experiences for our students. Examples include conducting contract tracing, participating in community health education, and helping with COVID-19 testing, vaccine distribution, operations, and administrative tasks at our university’s Wellness Center and large-scale vaccination sites.

In the past 20 years, we have seen a decrease in the stigma associated with mental health treatment. What do you think the next 5-10 years will bring in terms of changes in the perception of mental health stigma? How will the workforce be impacted by these changes?

For most Americans, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant levels of stress, triggering new or worsening current mental health challenges. Factors including social distancing restrictions, changes in family dynamics, job loss, financial insecurity, safety concerns, confusing health messages, illness, and death of loved ones, have led many to experience feelings of grief, loss, isolation, uncertainty, loneliness, anger, fear, and psychological distress. Reports of suicidal ideation, self-harming behaviors, domestic violence, and substance abuse have risen during the pandemic, along with documented increases in symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders. These shared experiences with mental health struggles will continue to bolster awareness and help reduce the stigma.

Healthcare professionals are experiencing burnout at alarming rates, contributing to workforce shortages and adverse physical and mental health outcomes. Employers must make the mental health of their employees a priority by creating better resources for support, nurturing self-care, and implementing changes that promote well-being and reduce workplace stress.

The COVID-19 crisis illustrates how crucial collaboration is in advancing innovation and improving the health of our communities.

As we continue to face down the COVID pandemic and its effect on healthcare, what do you see as trends and major issues facing us in 2021?

With the acceleration of digital technologies such as telehealth and the use of artificial intelligence, academic institutions will need to prepare healthcare students for a new workforce. Adapting coursework, funding research, and increasing experiential-based learning opportunities that focus on the science, use, development, implementation, and evaluation of digital health technologies is a priority. Future healthcare leaders will need to be skilled at leveraging digital solutions that address disparities, create more efficient workflow processes, enhance patient care, and drive better health outcomes for our communities. The pandemic initiated unprecedented collaboration across sectors, communities, organizations, and industries. Competitors and unlikely allies joined forces to combat the COVID-19 crisis, resulting in rapid and extraordinary innovation. Collaborative learning approaches are now essential in healthcare education to cultivate the skills necessary to thrive in robust ecosystems that reduce
health disparities, advance health equity, promote healthy communities, and transform the future of healthcare.

Orange County has long been noted for healthy living. Yet, despite this image, our incidence for diseases such as breast cancer exceeds the national average. Layer this with an aging population and we have another health care crisis ahead. How do we put more energy into wellness and disease prevention to ensure a healthier future?

The COVID-19 crisis illustrates how crucial collaboration is in advancing innovation and improving the health of our communities. Stakeholders from multiple sectors, industries, disciplines, communities, and systems with differing viewpoints and expertise joined forces to solve unimaginable challenges, driving sustainable improvements in health. Communities united by assisting neighbors, creating resources to help essential workers, raising funds for those in need, and finding creative ways to connect with one another. However, the pandemic has also highlighted deep social disparities and health inequities. A concerted effort to address and better understand the social determinants of health in our community is vital to improve overall wellness and disease prevention. Comprehensive epidemiological research examining the underlying causes of health disparities will lead to targeted interventions and improved health promotion strategies, providing pathways to optimal health for all. The current momentum of unwavering commitment and synergistic collaboration must continue to create innovative solutions that harness a culture of health and promote health equity in our community.

How is your organization involved in the local OC community?

Service is embedded in the mission of Concordia University Irvine and fostered throughout all levels and activities of the university. Many classes integrate service-learning and student clubs and athletic teams regularly perform community service projects. ConcordiaCares, a student-run program, offers opportunities to serve the local community by partnering with organizations to build sustainable volunteer programs and educate our campus about current social justice issues. Concordia University Irvine also hosts ConcordiaServes, an annual day of service for students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and donors to dedicate their time to serve others in any way they choose. Last year, on one day, over 1,000 members of the Concordia University Irvine family stepped into the community to serve in a variety of capacities. Throughout the year, healthcare students come together to raise funds for organizations that improve the lives of those in our community. Additionally, healthcare students are required to volunteer in organizations that improve our community’s health.

Concordia University Irvine’s School of Health and Human Sciences is committed to preparing students who are dedicated to serving their neighbors’ health and welfare. We foster cross-disciplinary learning and equip students to become healthcare leaders and administrators prepared for the demands of an evolving industry.

Learn more about our programs: B.A. Healthcare Management, B.S. Kinesiology, Accelerated B.S. Nursing, Master of Healthcare Administration, Master of Public Health, M.A. Coaching & Athletics Administration, M.S. Coaching & Exercise Sciences.

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