Telehealth offers Virginia Community College students mental health support
For years, it has been the policy of colleges in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) to partner with their local Community Service Boards (CBS) to connect students with outside mental health resources. Colleges were not allowed to provide counselors themselves.
Then the pandemic happened.
After March 2020, even urban areas teeming with doctors, therapists and psychiatrists found those resources depleted as they navigated the destabilizing waters of the virus. At Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Warrenton and Luray, their local resources were so stretched that students could wait up to eight weeks for an appointment.
“We’re in a pretty rural area and there’s a real lack of mental health care — there just aren’t enough providers,” said Caroline Wood, associate vice president of student services and support. school at Lord Fairfax Community College. “And one of the things we know is that it’s very difficult, if someone is anxious and depressed, if there is an obstacle or a waiting time, someone will not seek the service.”
Now the policy of VCCS changed. In September 2021, the VCCS authorized third-party providers to meet the health needs of their students. In December, community colleges across the state partnered with TimelyMD, a telehealth service that provides on-demand and appointment-based medical care, mental health support, psychiatric support, health, basic needs, and personal care assistance to 10% of all community college students nationwide, at no cost to students.
A Survey 2021 of VCCS students conducted by The Hope Center, a Temple University research organization that aims to make higher education more efficient and equitable, found that at least one-third of VCCS students had a close friend in a family member who fell ill with COVID. Five percent (5%) were themselves sick with COVID and 10% lost a loved one to the virus, with black students three times more likely than their white counterparts to lose a loved one. Thirty-five percent (35%) of students said they were showing signs of anxiety.
“Community college students are incredibly resilient and often must overcome a unique set of challenges due to social determinants,” said Becky Laman, senior vice president of growth strategy and partnerships at TimelyMD. “Helping those with mental health issues means a lot to us. We empower students to take charge of their well-being and can contribute to their success as a student. Their successes are our successes.
By partnering with TimelyMD, students now have 24/7 access to a medical professional who can be contacted by phone, text or voice, via desktop or smartphone app . All of this is offered at a reduced rate to schools that have joined the TimelyMD partnership. At Lord Fairfax Community College, the cost of TimelyMD is about the same as a full-time mental health professional.
Dr. Karen Campbell, vice president of student affairs at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, said that as soon as she shared information about new telehealth resources with students, she started receiving thank you emails. . The student told him how much they needed the service and how grateful they were for it.
Campbell will continue to send out reminders about the new service because each time she does, whether through emails or flyers, the number of students using it grows.
“We knew COVID was really impacting our students differently,” Campbell said. “We always knew students needed mental health services, but with Covid and the loss of family members, what was happening in the country was impacting their mental health.”
For students in crisis, TimelyMD contacts school leaders to ensure that emergency care can be provided. Local CSBs are still used to connect students who need more specialist care with psychiatrists and doctors in their area, but now, with 24/7 telehealth support, a student no longer have to wait for help.
To track their effectiveness, TimelyMD sends reports to the schools they partner with, sharing data on the services used and the number of new enrollments. Colleges can see which days of the week students use their resource most often and at what time of day. The data is even disaggregated, showing the breakdown of usage by racial, ethnic, age and gender groups.
“More than half of our providers are professionals of color and are trained to be culturally competent and sensitive to race, socioeconomic status, LGBTQIA+, gender and sexual orientation, and the impacts of inequalities in health care,” Laman said.
Lord Fairfax Community College has seen a steady increase in usage since the program began, and so far students share positive feedback with Wood about their experiences.
“It’s a net,” she said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re on a tightrope with nothing underneath because you’re trying to finish your education and you have a family and a job. This provides the net that if you fall we can catch you, better than before.
Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected]