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MSU counseling, services to undergo massive restructuring

November 7, 2016

With the student demand for health services on campus at an all-time high, MSU is finding that it needs to modify its methods. On-campus health services have been available to students since 1893 and have been updated over time, but there is a new university effort to integrate the separate health service branches across campus, reorganize the structure and leadership of these services and expand human resources to meet growing demands.

"There is growing concern about the number of students who present with behavioral health concerns, everything from anxiety to significant depression."

An action committee made up of leadership and staff from the Counseling Center, Student Health Services and Psychiatry Services met this summer to discuss potential changes that could be made to the different student health services.

With the help of Keeling and Associates, a higher education consulting firm, a report was formed by the action committee, titled “Strategy and Recommendations: Designing a Continuum of Student Health and Wellness Services.”

The report calls for an increase of staff in the health centers, an integrated network between each service, the housing of services in one main location and the implementation of a common record between each branch of health services, among other proposed changes. These adjustments are looking to be made to meet the changing demands from students.

“There is growing concern about the number of students who present with behavioral health concerns, everything from anxiety to significant depression,” MSU Provost June Youatt, who helped identify the action committee, said. “What we’re trying to do is ask and answer the questions: are we best organized to provide the highest quality of care to our students? Are we there when students need us? Are they getting the help they need? Are they getting it quickly if they need it, and are we matching students who come looking for support to the right level of care provider?”

The report’s main goal is to push for the development of a continuum of health services for students, where all current branches of service would be fully-integrated and known as “Student Health and Wellness Services.”

In the years since health services began at MSU, they have been expanded through health education, more facilities and collaboration with other university services.

However, the past few years have seen an overall change in student mental health and the demand for behavioral health services on campus. In fact, MSU’s Counseling Center reported a 100 percent increase of students seen in direct service from 2004 to 2014.

This trend is national. According to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, 93 percent of university counseling center directors reported an increased demand for services in 2012. Most of the time, these student health services can’t keep up.

The Counseling Center reported that MSU’s percentage of students undergoing treatment for anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol abuse and dependence, sexual and physical assault, self-injurious behavior, eating disorders, oppression, significant prior treatment and psychotropic medication is higher than the national averages for the treatment of these conditions. Only relationship issues and ADHD conditions are being treated at MSU at a lower percentage than the national average.

Three of these conditions have demonstrated slow but consistent growth during the past five years, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health said in their 2015 annual report. Depression, anxiety and social anxiety have been an increasing concern for counseling centers across the country as the rates in which students experience them are growing.

These mental health trends could come as a result of overuse of digital technology like social media and video games, the de-stigmatization of getting mental health treatment, or even changes in parenting, but overall, it’s hard to say exactly where these changes come from, Scott Becker, the director of MSU Counseling Center said in a presentation to ASMSU.

What’s clear, however, is the need for university health services across the country to adapt to these changes, and MSU hopes to do just that.

The Strategy and Recommendations report was generated during the summer of 2016 to outline changes that could be made to the current MSU health services system. Nothing in the report is final, but it does provide an initial outline for solutions to the growing problems MSU faces.

“Even though people have been calling it ‘The Keeling Report,’ it’s actually the thoughts of the action committee of what might work best on our campus,” David Weismantel, the interim executive director for Student Health and Wellness, said. “It was our best attempt at a basic framework to start from to lead to that future implementation.”

As the interim executive director of Student Health and Wellness, Weismantel is faced with the task of coordinating and leading the efforts to make changes to the way students receive care.

The primary goal the report details is integrating the currently separated health service centers instead of running Psychiatry Services, the Counseling Center and Student Health Services as separate organizations. This reorganization will provide more coordination among services and allow these operations to work together better as a group, Weismantel said.

"It’s a lot of work ahead to figure out how to make this work – Lots of other schools have done this and it’s never an easy transition to make."

“What we’re hoping is that students who, at any time in their academic career, need behavioral health support or assistance, that they will be able to access that more easily,” Youatt said.

One proposed way to make this happen is through housing these services in one location. Another proposed idea is to create a single point of entry for students, so those employed in health services can send them where they can best receive help — whether that’s from counseling, psychiatry or other health services. An additional way to integrate these service centers is through the establishment of a common record system between each branch of health services through the EHR system AthenaHealth.

“And that’s underway right now,” Weismantel said. “It is going live on Nov. 8, so student health services and psychiatry will be using that starting on Tuesday, Nov. 8 and we plan to have the Counseling Center sometime in the coming months also up on that common record so they’re more able to coordinate care between the different services.”

Additional proposed changes include increasing the number of counseling providers for understaffed service centers, implementing a 24-hour phone hotline, extending the use of group therapy and workshops and developing advisory groups.

The efforts to make changes started in May, according to a letter from Youatt. At the end of August, the final report was established and implementation groups will help facilitate these changes from now until next fall.

“The expectation would be that by the start of fall semester 2017 that this new model be operational,” Weismantel said. “It might not have all the pieces because it’s going to take time to hire staff and we might need specialists, but operational by the fall.”

Weismantel said he hopes to reach out to students to participate in the planning of these changes. The implementation committee will host town hall meetings as a means to gather more student input. They also hope to work with different student groups to take their concerns into consideration as they move forward.

“We’re going to be reaching out to student groups to participate in the planning of this,” he said. “We’ll be reaching out for feedback hopefully from all interested parties.”

Another point of consideration is funding. As far as budgeting, these questions and concerns will be addressed through the implementation groups, Weismantel said.

Overall, however, Weismantel said he believes there will be positive outcomes from making these changes. He hopes students will see an improved access to care, more timely access to care and an increased variety in services available, he said.

“It’s a lot of work ahead to figure out how to make this work – Lots of other schools have done this and it’s never an easy transition to make,” Youatt said. “Once you’ve been operating in one model, to say, ‘We’re really going to lay that down and create something new because we think it will be better for our students.’ So they’ve done really good work, there’s a lot of work ahead, but I think on the other side of it, it really will benefit our students.”


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