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The Scarlet & Black

Students continue to express dissatisfaction with SHACS services

As he is currently unable to afford student health insurance, Dan Davis ’16 worries that he is putting his mental health in the hands of people who cannot adequately provide healthcare support. He began seeing a therapist in town his first year at the recommendation of a Student Health and Counseling Services (SHACS) counselor with the financial assistance of the College. However, when his counselor’s practice closed, he stopped seeing anyone until a breakdown led him to seek support from SHACS counselors again. Soon, Davis grew uncomfortable continuing to see the therapist, so he now only relies on talking to friends and religious leaders on campus.

Since May 2013, when two SHACS staff members resigned from their positions with the College, members of the Grinnell Regional Medical Center (GRMC) and the College’s Active Minds chapter have been working with SHACS to change the way that SHACS operates, with the hope of offering more mental health services to students.

Active Minds met on Tuesday to compile a list of ideas for improvements that they hope to present to both SHACS staff and officers from Grinnell’s administration.

SHACS currently has three part-time licensed counseling professionals and one part-time temporary counselor providing services. Every weekday, one part-time temporary licensed mental health counselor is available to students, for a total of 37 hours per week, which represents a drastic decrease from the over 50 hours available to Grinnell students last year. According to Deb Shill, Director of SHACS Operations, SHACS is unable to offer competitive pay rates to attract new staff members.

“Providing quality medical and mental health care is one of our top priorities. We want our students to have the best care possible so they can get the most from their education,” Shill said.

As temporary employees keep circulating through the office, students are forced to reestablish patient-counselor relationships, which is a potentially traumatic and uncomfortable experience.

“[When seeing a new counselor for the first time] you have to go through all the stuff you want to share and it’s a very traumatic experience in itself just to do an intake appointment,” Davis said. “Due to the fact that SHACS keeps changing … it puts me in a bad mental space.”

Davis hopes to see the administration openly admit to prospective students that the school is not meeting the mental health needs of many students. In the meantime, SHACS has continued to collaborate with GRMC both for recruiting new counselors and providing mental health services to students.

“Our mission and values are to meet the health needs of the community, and the College is an integral part of the community,” said GRMC President and CEO Todd Linden.

While GRMC has also been affected by the nationwide shortage of professionals trained in mental health, it has been able to recruit a mental health staff to supplement what SHACS can offer to Grinnell students.

“It is a national issue, but the good news is seeking mental health services is becoming less stigmatized,” Linden said.

Since SHACS sought their help, GRMC administrators have recruited four part-time counselors who are on campus at SHACS for short-term counseling needs. GRMC and the College also have a contract to provide students with a minimum of eight hours of access to GRMC psychiatrists and a nurse practitioner specializing in medication management and the diagnostic process of mental health issues.

Moving forward, Shill encouraged students to share their grievances about access to mental healthcare on campus with SHACS. Additionally, SHACS and the College’s upper administration will soon be able to review the results of a survey that SGA sent to students who had experiences with the SHACS counseling office last semester.

Still, Davis feels that the College is not doing enough to properly address student needs.

“They keep saying they’re being aggressive and active but I see SHACS getting worse. So I don’t think they’re taking this seriously and I think that’s sad,” he said.

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