Student Government Association hosts Town Hall forum with Student Health and Wellness Center

By: 
Ethan Castro
Date: 
Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

On Tuesday, March 21 during the student lunch hour, the Student Government Association (SGA) Events Committee hosted another installment of the organization’s regular Town Hall forums. During these public events, staff from a particular university department are invited to come and host an open platform where students are welcome to come and voice their opinions or ask questions of that particular department. This most recent Town Hall was held with the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC), a department dedicated to meeting the medical and wellness needs of the entire student body.

After the audience and SHWC staff had their catered Sodexo lunch, the forum began with Senator Erin Nelson of the SGA Events Committee introducing the event and the panel of individuals from the Student Health and Wellness Center introducing themselves. Senator Nelson then began with a previously submitted online question that inquired about a perceived issue of walk-in appointments not always being properly accommodated by the SHWC. Associate Vice Provost of Student Health and Wellness Anita Opdycke responded that by the nature of the center, all efforts are taken to accommodate walk-in students, but wait times are the unfortunate reality of such open services. Although a walk-in student cannot always be seen immediately, best efforts are made so that such students should be seen within the same or next day. A triage system does apply to walk-ins as well. Students with major, life-threatening conditions (such as breathing issues) will be seen immediately as a first priority, bumping up other previously scheduled appointments if deemed necessary. Urgent, but not necessarily life-threatening, concerns (such as a sudden urinary tract infection) are treated in designated walk-in time slots. Thus, the SHWC has mechanisms in place to accommodate for walk-in emergencies, but wait times are an unfortunate reality of such services.

Following that discussion came a question from an audience member about a billing issue her friend encountered. This friend in question had gone in for an appointment about an infection, was asked to be tested for sexually-transmitted diseases, and then billed for such testing despite rejecting them in the first place. Opdycke responded that this was a very circumstantial problem and is not reflective of the policies and procedures of the SHWC. Providers are trained to explain all testing they find necessary and give proper reasoning for such occurrences. Students have a right to know why they are being tested and can deny it at their own discretion. The SHWC has no authority to force medical testing and can only act as recommenders laying out benefits of a given medical test.

Moving away from traditional medical practices and procedures, discussion then shifted to a series of audience questions centered around the therapy services offered by the SHWC. The first such question inquired about the current practice of the SHWC assigning a therapy client a specific therapist instead of allowing the student the choice of a preferred therapist among the center’s staff. Staff Psychologist Christine Reh answered with the unfortunate current reality that the SHWC has a shortage of therapy staff and that “now we don't really have the luxury to assign therapists based on somebody's preference”. Programs scheduled for the upcoming summer should allow more staff to be trained and increase the therapist capacity of the center, but for now the center can only offer its promise that it will work to the fullest extent of its current capacity to accommodate all students as fairly and consistently as possible.

A follow-up question to this discussion was an audience question about what policies and procedures are in place for when a therapist leaves the center in the middle of a client relationship. Reh replied that such departures are planned far in advance and that transitional therapy sessions are arranged between a student’s prior and new therapist to ensure a smooth transfer of service. However, in unexpected situations regarding a staff member’s departure, administrative assistance can only occur post-fact, although such circumstances are rare.

A later question regarding the systems in place for the therapy options of the SHWC to deal with issues of suicidal and self-harming tendencies was met with a strong expression of the legal and ethical obligations of the department to abide by confidentiality over such topics. Unless students are at “imminent risk” of harming themselves or others, the staff of the SHWC cannot and will not disclose any information that a student discusses at his or her therapy or medical sessions. The professional nature of the center means that students are encouraged to come and make an appointment for any and all medical or mental health concerns and find comfort in knowing that the staff are trained to serve their clients to the best of their administrative ability.

In the same vein of administrative assistance, the next audience question concerned the issues of insurance and billing. Associate Director of Operations Melody McCray emphasized that the SHWC, by itself, is not a billing facility and that the department’s policy is “to not tell the students what we think they will pay”. Instead, in the event that billing from an outside lab falls upon a student, the SHWC is more than capable of helping make sure that such a bill is correct and making any phone calls or other appeals necessary to avoid any incorrect billings. Students are encouraged to approach the SHWC with questions and issues regarding any medical bills related to services from the department.

Outside the scope of the SHWC, the next audience question asked if there was any collaboration between the specialists of the center and with Illinois Tech Dining Services over ensuring proper nutritional standards are met in The Commons and other campus dining options. It is the understanding of the Student Health and Wellness Center that part of the Dining Services staff is a registered Sodexo dietitian. A suggestion from an audience member was that students concerned over the nutritional value of on-campus dining options should relay their concerns to the Residence Hall Association and the Food Advisory Board. A member of the Food Advisory Board was present in the audience and stated that he would bring up the question of nutrition at the next Food Advisory Board meeting.

Adderall prescriptions were the subject of the next question. A stimulant traditionally used to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Adderall has a somewhat negative stigma surrounding it involving abuse among students to supplement long studying sessions by boosting attention span. The SHWC made it clear at the forum that prescriptions require a pre-existing ADHD diagnosis and proper medical documentation that a student needs the prescription to be filled by a licensed psychiatrist. The department takes such the process for Adderall and other prescription drugs very seriously to avoid any issues of abuse.

Returning to administrative concerns, another student in the audience expressed confusion over the online appointment system offered by the SHWC, citing that it does not show any open therapy appointments for the next month. Opdycke stated that the next available intake therapy session is March 22, but that a new therapist is slated to be joining the center’s staff soon and more students would be able to be accommodated as a result. She also reiterated that walk-in appointments for crises are always an option, and such occurrences are fast-tracked to work with the student’s needs as much as possible.

The medical climate of the United States is due for some very dramatic changes in the upcoming future, as the federal Affordable Care Act is likely to be repealed. The staff of the SHWC hope to address this issue and other related questions at an upcoming “Health Insurance 101” session to be detailed in an email to the student body after the Town Hall. Students are also encouraged to come to the SHWC on the third floor of the IIT Tower at any time to discuss questions of insurance.

The final topic of the forum was a series of questions regarding efforts by the SHWC to address and collaborate with select campus groups, such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and self-labeled "queer" communities. Opdycke responded that her department is “happy to work with any student group”. However, she also responded that prior attempts at engaging the student body have failed to properly retain a sizable population of interested and involved students. For example, the SHWC website specifically references a Student Health and Wellness Advisory Committee that no longer exists as all involved students lost interest over time. "If we can speak the language of the students, by the students, from the students, we will be more successful in getting information out there,” Opdyke explained.

Inspired by the clear gap in communications between the student body and the SHWC, one SGA senator is currently spearheading an effort to revive the Student Health and Wellness Advisory Committee in the same vein as other SGA advisory boards, such as the aforementioned Food Advisory Board. Ideally, this board will continue the connection between both parties that this Town Hall helped begin. This effort is still in its very early phases, but interested students are encouraged to lend their support and ideas at ecastro3@hawk.iit.edu.