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“Let’s Talk” hours expanded, Boe House future uncertain

Boe House Counseling Center announced it would be adding additional hours for “Let’s Talk,” a drop-in service that allows students to have an informal 10 to 15 minute consultation with a counselor. The Counseling Center will be adding “Let’s Talk” hours from 11 a.m. to noon on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. These times will be in addition to the existing “Let’s Talk” hours of 1:30-2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. “Let’s Talk” is located in Rolvaag Memorial Library 306.

The Counseling Center decided to expand “Let’s Talk” hours in part because of how challenging it can be for some students to incorporate full 45-minute appointments into a busy schedule or even make an appointment without facing a waiting period.

“It can be hard to get an appointment here, it gets busy, schedules get busy,” said Erin Fredrick-Gray, a psychologist at the Counseling Center. “I just think anytime where we can be more flexible and just have more availability to students is always a good thing.”

“It’s also really helpful if a student calls down and they’re trying to figure out time to come down here, in the meantime they can come down to ‘Let’s Talk,’” Fredrick-Gray said.

This expansion of “Let’s Talk” hours comes amidst discussion of outsourcing Counseling Center operations to a third-party organization as another means of expanding access to mental health resources. According to Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Jan Hanson, the administration’s talks with Allina Health over an outsourcing agreement are more about expanding access than cutting costs. Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser also emphasized that a deal with Allina won’t necessarily save money. While a 2015 Manitou Messenger article referenced a shortage of mental health resources in Northfield, Hanson and Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton said that the situation has since improved considerably, with Allina investing more in Northfield and hiring two new psychiatrists.

However, the goal to expand access did not seem to come across at the Feb. 20 Greater Than Town Hall. Many students present believed that the move to outsource operations was motivated by concerns about costs, and that any cost-cutting could potentially harm students’ access to mental health services.

Some students expressed worries that they may have trouble accessing counseling services under any outsourcing deal that required insurance. Some students also worried that an insurance-based system would require a formal diagnosis in order for their counselling to be billable, potentially creating a barrier to access.

According to Hanson, these fears are unlikely to be realized. Hanson told students that Allina Health has agreed to waive the requirement that treatment require a diagnosis, and said there will still be counseling services circumventing any insurance-based system. She also said the administration has not yet decided whether student insurance will be utilized at all.

Some students also expressed frustration with what they see as a secretive process with little student input. Since early October 2017, when the administration said it expected a proposal from Allina Health within two weeks, students have heard very little about the progress of these talks. Kneser attributed this silence to the fact that the most substantial component of Allina Health’s preliminary proposal was a financial statement submitted in January that contains confidential information that could not be publicly released.

Many students at the Town Hall also expressed indignation at the way certain Public Safety officers have handled student mental health crises, and a number of individuals voiced support for increasing mental health awareness training for students and faculty.

Beyond “Let’s Talk,” Boe House Counseling Center provides a variety of mental health resources. According to their website, the Counseling Center provides “individual counseling, group counseling, workshops, testing, consultation and referrals. Services are provided without cost to all currently enrolled St. Olaf students.”