St. Olaf still in talks to outsource Boe House services

Continuing decision-making about the future of Boe House that began amidst cost cutting earlier this year, St. Olaf is still in conversations with Allina Health about the possibility of outsourcing.

According to Tim Burke, spokesperson for Allina Health, the health organization sent St. Olaf a proposal as early as Nov. 10.

However, according to Kari Vanderveen, Associate Director for Media Relations, the proposal only offered a preliminary estimate of the proposed services and did not have information the College needed to determine if it is a viable plan.

“We are still very much at the beginning phases of these discussions,” Vanderveen said.

As the conversations progress, she affirmed that the College has much to consider.

“There are a number of considerations the College is taking into account as these discussions move forward, including access to services and providers; patient privacy and confidentiality; and payment/insurance,” Vanderveen said. “All of these things are part of the dialogue with Allina.”

She also reasserted that, for the time being, students have access to Boe House services as usual and no changes to the services would be made within the 2017-2018 academic year.

Still, many students are concerned about possible future changes and student feedback.

“It’s not been a transparent process at all,” Greater Than Campaign Chair Sarah Freyermuth ’19 said. Greater Than is a student organization that advocates for mental health and connects students with mental health services on campus.

Many Greater Than advocates are afraid of what a transition to insurance-based counseling services, which Allina’s would likely be, would mean for students. This could introduce new stumbling blocks, such as co-pays, an inability to hide treatment from others on the insurance plan and a required diagnosis for treatment.

“You have to have a diagnosis in order for it to be billable to insurance, so right now there are a lot of people who go to Boe House who aren’t diagnosed who go there just to talk about regular, everyday things, or could be diagnosed but don’t necessarily want that on their permanent record,” Freyermuth said.

According to surveys conducted by the Wellness Center and shared with Greater Than, 34.2 percent of Oles have “felt so depressed it was difficult to function” in the last 12 months and a large number have “been diagnosed or treated by a medical professional,” including 16 percent for anxiety and 14.3 percent for depression.

In order to address possible future changes, Greater Than is planning on hosting a town hall during interim or second semester where students and possibly mental health professionals or those knowledgeable about insurance can talk about what changes may mean.

At the Student Government Association’s Student Senate meeting on Nov. 28, a number of students addressed concerns about the future of Boe House. Vice President of Student Life Greg Kneser affirmed no changes would be made within the year. Kneser addressed a number of unanswered questions from Allina, including the role of insurance and if the College may implement a health fee.

“I want to remind you that nothing is free, you pay for this one way or another – if it’s rolled into the comprehensive fee it competes with athletics, academics, etc,” Kneser said. “If it was a tacked on health fee, it wouldn’t be up against a choice in a reducing resource environment where it’s competing against everything else on campus.”

He also responded to concerns about hiring counselors of color to more adequately address the needs of students of color.

“We heard last year that students want more providers of color to be able to see our students,” Kneser said. “In order to meet the breadth of diversity there is at St. Olaf, one provider wouldn’t be enough. We want to know the availability of access to a network of providers so we can have Somali providers, Hmong providers, etc. The only way to get access to a network like that is to go outside of the model that we currently have.”

The College is also taking steps to address student concerns, with an event in the works.

“We’re in the process of scheduling a listening session for the first part of second semester that will be open to any student who wishes to weigh in on counseling services at St. Olaf,” Vanderveen said.