Seeking new leadership to rescue the 75-year-old school, the college’s board invited England to return to Regis last year. "But what really changed my mind was when I met with the students," she said. "I saw that we have a great student body, and that’s when I made a decision to come home and try to stabilize the school’s financial situation so it could continue as a women’s college."
She began her duties last July and was officially inaugurated as Regis’s ninth president on April 5. England carries with her a commitment to the same priorities—social justice and empowerment of women—that characterized earlier chapters of her career when she served as Massachusetts state commissioner for social services, associate dean at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, president of APA, and president of the WBGH.
At Regis, England said she hopes to attract more students to the college’s traditional master’s degree programs in nursing and education—as well as a new program in leadership and organizational change management—while expanding the undergraduate bachelor’s program.
But her overriding task is to put the college back on firm financial footing, while maintaining the institution’s identity as both a Catholic school and a school for women. But England said that she and the school’s board of directors have resisted the lure of going co-ed to solve financial difficulties. She emphasized that there is a role, and an urgent need, for institutions of higher learning dedicated to women.
Founded in 1927 by the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, Regis today has more than 1,200 students, with 750 in the undergraduate program. Approximately 450 of the students live on campus, and most of the rest commute from nearby Boston, Lowell, and Lawrence.
Among the freshman class, 40 percent are Hispanic, African American, or Asian. Fifty-five percent of the student body is Catholic, and as many as 40 percent are the first generation in their families to go to college, England said.
After 11 years as president of WBGH, England leaves behind a legacy of dedication to expanding access to health care—and especially mental health care—through employer-sponsored initiatives.
"My work with the business group opened up for me a whole new arena for delivering services to the mentally ill," she said.
England is especially proud of the business group’s advances in creating "work-life support services" for employees—a range of services and programs that recognize the connection between productivity and the health-related stresses of contemporary American home life. They include such things as the availability of breast pumps at the work site for nursing mothers or elder care for workers with aging parents. She noted, for instance, that working mothers who are hospitalized for mental or addictive disorders often require supportive services for their families.
"Large employers recognize more and more that they need supportive work-life programs for their employees including day care, elder services, and information and referral services," England said. "It’s a phenomenon that has grown and should be integrated with mental and addictive services."
She also counts as highlights of her tenure at the WBGH the opportunity to work with the federal government on parity for treatment of mental illness and the group’s support of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Depression Awareness, Recognition, and Treatment (DART) Program.
"We were able for the first time to get large employers to recognize the importance of treating depression in the work site," she said.
As president of WBGH, as well as president and board member of APA, England was an advocate of health system reform and universal access to care. Today, England continues to see promising new developments in health policy at the employer level, especially in the form of a movement toward "defined contributions."
The idea behind defined contributions is to have employees choose health insurance policies much like they would the mutual fund in their 401(k) retirement accounts. Employers would pay a fixed dollar amount on behalf of each employee for the employee’s choice of health insurance. The employee would then select a policy that costs less than the amount of the employer’s contribution or add personal funds to the employer’s to purchase a more expensive plan.
England expressed regret about the failure of the nation to achieve universal access to health care, something she said the board of WBGH has always supported. She predicted that the nation’s system of financing and delivering health care will continue to be challenged by the growing and increasingly expensive problem of chronic illness and drug coverage for the elderly. She also laments the movement among states for the sharp reductions in Medicaid coverage for mental and addictive disorders.
Yet England said that any renewed effort at sweeping reform of the nation’s health system is unlikely. "Most elected officials see it as a third rail," she said.
England assumes her role as president at Regis at a time when the voices of women and others not traditionally represented in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church may particularly resonate.
In the wake of sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church, England is among two other psychiatrists appointed recently by Cardinal Bernard F. Law to the Commission for the Protection of Children that will advise the Boston Archdiocese. She is joined on that commission by Ned Cassem, M.D., a psychiatrist and Jesuit priest at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Donna Norris, M.D., a child psychiatrist and former speaker of the APA Assembly.
England believes the agonies of the church today have lessons about the value of openness and inclusiveness for organizations everywhere.
"We are going through an enormous change in society today," England said. "Whether it’s at APA or the Catholic Church, I am more convinced than ever that we need to have a lot more openness and less secrecy and the involvement of all members of our society." ▪