Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Problems persist for survivors despite expansions in healing fund coverage

April 6, 2021
Ribbons are displayed during the Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak Exhibition Opening Ceremony at the MSU Museum on April 16, 2019.
Ribbons are displayed during the Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak Exhibition Opening Ceremony at the MSU Museum on April 16, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

The Counseling and Mental Health Services Fund for survivors of abuse from Larry Nassar during his time as a doctor at Michigan State has expanded its coverage of treatments after a long struggle from survivors fighting for the coverage they believe they are owed by the University.

The Fund has been updated to cover a wide range of qualifying expenses that have been requested such as service animals and ketamine infusion therapy to meet the requests of survivors.

The Healing and Assistance Fund was originally established in December 2017 to provide survivors with resources needed for treatment that stems from the abuse. The fund was discontinued in July 2018 after an investigation began into fraudulent claims being made. 

An intermediate Healing Fund was created following the fraudulent claims, using the money that was earmarked for the fund originally by the Board of Trustees. The Fund is managed by a third-party contractor, New Directions Behavioral Health, that handles the reimbursement process for coverage for survivors. 

University Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said that Michigan State has to have a third party manage the fund so that the University does not know who utilizes the fund. The Board of Trustees has no direct control over New Directions or the fund itself. 

The Fund was updated twice in 2020 to improve the ease of filling out the reimbursement forms for survivors and extending the coverage for services that were not covered originally.  

The improvement in coverage follows feedback from the survivors, who sent a letter to the Board of Trustees in August of 2020 requesting an expansion of coverage and having online forms to meet their needs. The letter included comments from 12 survivors about their problems with the Fund, which led to the changes made in December.

Danielle Moore, a sister survivor and doctor of clinical and forensic psychology, collected statements from survivors and cosigned the letter. She said that she did this because it was “incredibly frustrating” to see the mental health needs of survivors neglected.

“I thought that I should help out, because of that personal connection, but also just in terms of the profession,” Moore said. “I know what it's like to go through this process, to be a therapist. And to try to fight to get your mental health needs covered, it can just add so much more stress and can actually be a tipping point on if somebody actually gets the help they need or not.”

Board of Trustees member Brianna Scott, who serves as the chair for the student life and culture subcommittee that oversees the fund, said that the changes were made because of the feedback provided by survivors.

“A lot of that came from the feedback, which is really helpful to us because obviously, we aren't utilizing the fund,” said Scott. “And we don't really know what the hiccups may be when you know, trying to utilize it or what some of the things may be that trigger and re-traumatize the survivors.”

The changes to the fund include coverage for ketamine infusion therapy, service or support animals, outpatient counseling, hospitalization for mental health needs and residential mental health treatment according to New Directions’s website. 

Moore said that the changes are a great improvement, but there are still steps to be taken to make the process better for survivors while filling out forms on the website and letting survivors who use the fund know about the changes.

Moore said that the reimbursement form, which has a box asking if the person asking for reimbursement received "treatment at an MSU health clinic or as an MSU student-athlete," still is troubling.

“So it's still the same issue about checking this box,” Moore said. “And I know, it seems kind of trivial. But that can be really difficult for somebody because you're continuing to ask that person to put themselves in that victim role. The language is also (an issue), for me that word 'treatment', it wasn't treatment, it was abuse.”

Moore said that New Directions and Michigan State have not communicated the changes effectively with survivors, leading to confusion about what is actually covered for them and would love more open communication from both of them. 

“It seems pretty straightforward,” Moore said. “But I think people are getting hung up on some of these things ... with that letter that we sent out with some of the survivor comments, I asked if the survivor wanted to put their name and a lot of people did. And MSU basically told us they won't respond to individual survivors because of privacy. And really the reason why we put our name out there is so you can respond to us because we were having these issues. You know, we would like some type of answers or some type of reassurance.”

Guerrant said that she understands that it is a struggle sometimes to communicate the changes to the fund because the University cannot talk directly to those who use the fund but has made attempts to communicate with them.

“There have been times where we've made changes to the fund and admittedly, it is a struggle to communicate them out because it's not like we have a list of names right, here are the 20 people utilizing it. We shouldn't know who they are, we shouldn't have a way to contact them,” Guerrant said. “So we do have to rely on other channels.”

They have used channels such as the attorney general’s office, the lawyers representing survivors, and MSU’s center for survivors to try to share the changes, but it is tough because of that barrier in communication.

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Scott said that there is around $7.9 million remaining in the fund, and the Board does not have plans to change the allocation for that money or add more money to the fund. 

“So I don't see anything in the foreseeable future, that would take that money away from the reasons for the intended services that we were going to provide initially when it was created," said Scott. "So at this point, I don't see anything else that the fund would be used for.”


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