Newswise — When Melodee Lasky joined Rutgers University 19 years ago, behavioral and mental health services were scattered across the individual colleges with little coordination. Psychiatry and the Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program were part of student health, but counseling services were separated and college-affiliated.
As the New Brunswick campus evolved through Transforming Undergraduate Education, so did health and wellness services on campus. Lasky, a physician who recognized the connection between physical and emotional wellness, recommended that mental and behavioral health be integrated within the framework of student health.
That led to the creation of CAPS – Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services – a program that helps about 4,500 students each year. CAPS coordinates behavioral and mental health services across New Brunswick campuses with a focus on student needs that led to the evolution and enhancement of case management services, community-based counseling and the Next Step program. A new facility was built to house these services on the College Avenue campus, centralizing care in an accessible location.
“I really believe in an integrated approach to health care. I tried to focus on what students need for mental health and their medical care, and what we needed to do to provide those services to help students be successful,” said Lasky, assistant vice-chancellor for health and wellness at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, who is retiring, with May 10 her last work day. “I could always count on wonderful colleagues from across the university as well as the Rutgers students, who are bright, engaging and always keeping us on our toes.”
Rutgers–New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy said “Dr. Lasky is a forward-thinking leader who has transformed the way we meet students’ physical and mental health care needs. She has modernized our practices, advocated for gender-affirming services and overseen facilities improvements, among many other changes, all with a focus on improving the way we serve our students and helping ensure a positive student experience. She leaves Rutgers–New Brunswick better off than it was before, and that is a legacy to admire.”
Lasky, who works in the Division of Student Affairs, joined Rutgers in 2002 as director of health services at Hurtado after serving as program director of the Family Practice Residency at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey. In 2004, she became executive director of Student Health Services. She was promoted to assistant vice chancellor for student affairs–health and wellness in 2014. In addition to overseeing student health, her duties included oversight for Rutgers Student Affairs Recreation and the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance. In 2019, she also assumed the role of associate vice president for student health in Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, providing university-wide coordination and leadership for student health initiatives.
During her 19 years at Rutgers, Lasky contributed immensely to advancing student health practice in New Brunswick, from the independent health and counseling centers prior to Transformation of Undergraduate Education to an integrated multi-disciplinary student health practice. Board-certified in family practice, she has maintained her clinical practice, seeing students for a wide variety of medical problems. She did her undergraduate work at Lycoming College and studied medicine at Temple University.
Lasky has provided remarkable leadership in the last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering invaluable expert guidance and advice to the university during a very challenging time.
“There is no doubt in my mind that one reason Rutgers has fared so well in this pandemic in maintaining a safe learning environment is due to the dedication, collegiality and enormous experience Melodee brought to the table every day,” said Vicente Gracias, senior vice chancellor for clinical affairs at RBHS and vice president for health affairs at Rutgers. “She is a major reason for our success.”
Some of Lasky’s other accomplishments include:
- Overseeing construction of new buildings and renovation of others to create more functional and safe spaces, including CAPS at 17 Senior Street, several Hurtado renovations, a new health center at the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health, the Recovery House move to a new renovated space and renovation of the Busch Livingston Health Center.
- Advocating for and beginning gender-affirming hormone therapy on campus, mental health services for the trans population and helping to establish gender-neutral bathroom signs on campus.
- Bringing STI testing clinics, as well as flu vaccination clinics, to students with campus clinics outside of the student health centers.
- Fostering the expansion of programs including, most recently, Mental Health First Aid and Peer Coaching programs and Exercise is Medicine on Campus, to name a few.
“Health and well-being should never be taken for granted,” Lasky sad. “Wellness, in all its dimensions, is something we all – personally and as a Rutgers community of students, faculty and staff – need to work toward.”