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DAWSON: There is still untapped potential in Student Health programs

The new student health and wellness area is a success, yet its programs need revitalization as well

The University's commitment to an expanse of 129,500 square feet for student health and wellness programs is progress.
The University's commitment to an expanse of 129,500 square feet for student health and wellness programs is progress.

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Introduced in October, the seven-year project of the Student Health and Wellness building is drastically larger than its predecessor, the Elson Student Health Center. The new Student Health and Wellness Building is 165,000 square feet. In contrast, as stated in an email from the Student Disability Access Center, prior facilities at Elson were only 35,500 square feet — a 370 percent increase in area dedicated to student health and wellness programs. Now it's time the University leverages this newly developed area to refine the programs that reside within its walls. 

The main programs the Student Health and Wellness Building offers to students include — but are not limited to — the Student Disability Access Center, the Counsel and Psychological Services and the Office of Health Promotion. Each of these programs have potential to provide better services. 

I am a student who uses the new SDAC facilities to take tests due to a medical disability. I should note the new building has thoroughly impressed me thus far. My biggest gripe with Elson was the lack of personal space. That being said, these new testing rooms have separated desks in spaces that are quiet and cordoned. SDAC stocks a wheeled cart with appropriate amenities for testing including sharpened pencils, blank scratch paper and mesh earplugs. In my experience, staff have been personable and accommodative. My only recommendation for the future would be to expand hours of operation. Current hours for the SDAC center on a normal weekday are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I would argue expanding staffer presence from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. would cover a wider range of time that would encompass most — if not all — testing periods, whether early morning or late afternoon. Though I don’t speak for all who use SDAC’s services, I believe the program is headed in the right direction. 

Conversely, CAPS needs work. The spread of duties of CAPS staff is clearly more disparate than the other three departments. CAPS is a multifaceted program that incorporates individual and group therapy, psychiatric services, TimelyCare, Care Management and their Silvercloud program. My recommendation to CAPS — as an all-encompassing service — is to cover its primary duty to students first. This means prioritizing and managing physical space to schedule adequate and on-demand health consulting for students. 

Fellow second-year Engineering student Mohamed Gadelrab highlighted this concern over a Discord chat. When invited to speak on his CAPS experience he stated, “I tried to sign up for a screening for a diagnosis mid-semester in the spring, but they kept giving me other avenues of advice that weren’t what I wanted. Eventually, they conceded that all screening slots had been taken.” After internalizing this anecdotal account, I was doubly concerned. I inquired, “So, do you think CAPS is understaffed or are they simply lacking the physical resources to meet high-demand for care?” “It’s probably a bit of both,” he stated. 

Let me be saliently clear, if CAPS is full by means of exacerbated time slots, they should be upfront and tell students that. There should be no roundabout method. If this slot issue is a matter of physical space, expand the hours of operation to utilize the space for longer to meet student demand. Having hours that end at 5 p.m. on a weekday when some classes run throughout the day till 8 p.m. is frankly non-accommodative. Make it akin to my SDAC recommendation for hours of operation to be from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The University should have CAPS staff run screening and consulting meetings during this elongated interim, where class conflicts and full slots are hopefully problems of the past. If the current staff is not willing to work the extended hours, hire new, qualified workers for that period. 

Some may suggest, why not use the University’s 24/7 TimelyCare tele-health program to solve the time slot problem? While TimelyCare is designated as a “24/7 virtual care from anywhere,” the University’s partnership with TimelyCare comes with a price tag. The student body receives 12 free tele-health visits with TimelyCare courtesy of the University. After the allowance is surpassed, the student will need to come forth with their own insurance to foot the bill for their telehealth. The University accommodation with TimelyCare evaporates quickly. 12 tele-health appointments split across 8 semesters is inadequate. If CAPS wants to atone for lack of in-person mental health appointments, it should make a commitment to pay for the tele-health services of its students. Or, of course, the University may fix hours of operation to satisfy student demand for appointments, either or.  

Finally, my take on the lesser recognized Office of Health Promotion. Akin to CAPS the Office of Health Promotion is pretty broadband. The office includes — but is not limited to — health consulting visits, nutrition services, patient education, Wahoowell and the Collegiate Recovery Program. Everything in the office is relatively satisfactory except the leveraging of the new test kitchen. According to officials, “The cooking program will evolve over time. Right now, the center offers basic cooking skills, like how to make meals with five ingredients or less.” I believe the goal for the nutritionists affiliated with the Office of Health Promotion could be to lead a possible one credit class under the guidance of the University on food basics. I have a stringent diet, and like many, I believe a cooking class where we take initiative to learn to cook would be a desirable enterprise for the University to undertake. 

The University's commitment to an expanse of 129,500 square feet for student health and wellness programs is progress. However, even if this new facility is going to be deemed “cutting edge,” this means nothing if we don’t refine the programs within its walls. SDAC, CAPS and OHP should make an effort that staffing numbers meet student need, hours of operation are expanded and educational classes in regards to health are regularly promoted to partake in. 

Rylan Dawson is an Opinion Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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