Health services lack access, especially when classes end

UPDATE

Regarding this Staff Editorial, Director of Psychological Services Wendy Freedman submitted this clarification about Counseling Services’ finals schedule policy.

“The Vassar College Counseling Service wants to ensure that students have accurate information about the availability of campus mental health services at the end of the semester. The Counseling Service is open and available to see students through the last day of finals, Friday December 18th. During study week and finals, we open our schedules to offer walk-in crisis appointments during this potentially highly-stressful time. This provides us the flexibility to assist students when they are most needing the support. The Counselor on Call is available 24/7 during study week and finals, and also throughout the winter break, and can be accessed by calling the Campus Response Center at 845-437-7333.”

 

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Most students have experienced the insufficiency of Vassar’s health ser­vices, in particular, mental health services. Almost two years ago in February 2014, the VSA council called for Metcalf to open a post-doctoral fellow position in order to ex­pand the limited staff and to meet increas­ing demand for counseling services (The Miscellany News.“VSA addresses increased need for counseling services.” 2.5.14).

Last December, a group called Vassar Stu­dents for Mental Health garnered over 1,000 signatures on their online petition calling for improvements to Metcalf. In response, the VSA drafted a letter of endorsement, emphasizing the need for better staffing in counseling service (The Miscellany News. “Over 1,000 sign petition to improve men­tal health services.” 12.3.14). Despite such consistent efforts pushing for better mental health services, we at the Miscellany News believe that Metcalf remains inadequate, especially at the end of the semester, when there is a higher need for counseling ser­vices and medical support.

As the face of all mental health services on campus, Metcalf has failed to establish a strong relationship with students. Many students pass by the red-brick building be­tween Swift Hall and the Old Observatory without knowing its purpose. Knowing the purpose of the building is almost entirely linked to previous experiences with Met­calf. For students seeking assistance for the first time, it can be confusing and trouble­some to find sufficient guidance.

One of the reasons for Metcalf ’s lack of visibility is that the Administration hasn’t done enough to expand the outreach and impact of mental health services on campus. While it has 13 group counseling offerings, Metcalf only sends out one email at the be­ginning of each semester with information about these support and therapy groups. Consequently, many students are either un­aware of these options or unsure about how to participate in them. During finals, Met­calf organizes many stress buster events, which could be better publicized for more students to take advantage of them.

Additionally, the hours of Metcalf are not sufficient. Open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., it offers counseling and other ser­vices only during the academic year. More importantly, it ceases to book appointments during the study break before finals, when students are in more need of their services. Although there’s the option of a counsel­or-on-call for evenings and weekends during the academic year, Metcalf leaves too many students without the support they need.

Baldwin House has similar problems. Home to most medical services, Baldwin has hours limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. This is hardly an optimal schedule for unwell stu­dents unable or unwilling go to a hospital. During the night, there is a nurse on-call, but their ability to do full diagnostics and majors tests is minimal.

The limited number of counselors and staff at Metcalf must also be addressed. With the recent number of hires, Metcalf has been improving and is now able to ar­range appointments within one to two days. However, it still remains markedly under­staffed. Many report that campus counsel­ors only see students a few times before they refer students to off-campus services. Being sent off-campus not only means extra costs for transportation, but also more con­fusion in terms of understanding insurance coverage and finding a suitable counselor or therapist.

Going off campus can be frustrating, es­pecially for people with no means to get to and from appointments. Taxis and other forms of public transportation are neither easily affordable nor reliable in Poughkeep­sie.

Recently, the VSA Student Life commit­tee crafted an initiative that seeks to address this gap in accessibility. The committee has sent a transportation letter initiative to various senior level administrators, calling for transportation for students who seek off-campus counseling, off-campus pre­scription medications and transportation to and from the hospital. While we at the Miscellany News applaud this step forward, we think that more can be done to develop exchange to and from campus.

Moreover, off-campus services often re­sult in confusions and difficulties about finding the right resources and assistance. Some off-campus counselors that students are referred to failed to respond to student needs. The only guidance Metcalf provides for students to find a suitable off-campus counselor is a two-page handout with gen­eral, vague information that’s rarely helpful.

The problem people most frequently en­counter is probably insurance issues, both for mental health and other medical ser­vices. The manner in which Vassar provides its student’s health insurance is unaccept­able. The “Student Accident and Sickness Insurance Plan” provided by Gallagher Stu­dent Health & Special Risk is too difficult to navigate. There should be institutional support available for students that are expe­riencing mental health crises. Students also should not have to worry about money and filling out forms when they come into the insurance office.

College is hard enough without having to figure out what is covered by insurance. This added stress is not alleviated by Vassar health professionals. Their lack of knowl­edge about coverage and deductibles leaves an absence of someone on campus who can help students navigate coverage.

Lack of transparency of the plan appears to be a theme with this student insurance. The alleged release of confidential STI test results to parents is just one example. An STI test administered by Baldwin is sent to a lab that bills the student’s account, un­beknownst to the student. This allows the parents to see that their child had the test performed.

Considering other places nearby that of­fer free STI testing such as the Dutchess County Health Department and Planned Parenthood of the Mid-Hudson Valley, stu­dents should not have to worry about their parents finding out about their private lives. Baldwin needs to disclose what charges they make to students accounts resulting from these tests. In addition, the campus should provide free STI testing regardless of insurance as part of the Vassar’s mission to make college life more accessible.

We at the Miscellany News consider men­tal health and health services a basic student necessity. While we recognize the previous efforts by the VSA and college administra­tions to improve the quality of medical ser­vices on campus, there is still more for the college to do to radically transform student quality of life.

—The Staff Editorial represents the opin­ions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.

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