Student Health and Wellness Advisory Board seeks clarification on staffing, inclusion, and other issues

By: 
Ethan Castro
Date: 
Friday, March 31st, 2017

On behalf of the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA), Senator Ethan Castro from the Stuart School of Business has taken efforts to create a student advisory board with the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC). His vision is that this advisory board will serve as an intermediary between the questions and concerns of the student body and the overall strategies and programs of the SHWC. To bring this vision to fruition, the first meeting of the Student Health and Wellness Advisory Board (SHWAB) was held Friday, March 31 at the SHWC on the third floor of the IIT Tower. Present at this meeting were Senator Castro to represent SGA and Christine Reh, Interim Assistant Director of the SHWC.

The structure of this meeting took inspiration from SGA’s Food Advisory Board, a similar student platform for delivering feedback to Illinois Tech Dining Services and Sodexo. Thus, the meeting primarily consisted of Senator Castro bringing up issues he sourced from the student body via email, Facebook, and personal interactions. Given the sensitive nature of these medical issues and concerns, he made sure that all feedback for the department was anonymized and unable to be traced to its inquirer.

The first question from the student body was an inquiry into whether or not a system existed for a student engaged in the SHWC’s therapy services to switch to a new therapist for any reason. Reh responded that she oversees all of the counseling department at the SHWC, and she would be more than happy and able to allowing a student to switch to another therapist for any reason whatsoever. Any student who is currently engaged in therapy services at the SHWC is highly encouraged to reach out to Reh at creh@iit.edu.

Tying in to these same issues of dissatisfaction with one’s therapist at the SHWC, the next piece of student feedback that Senator Castro brought forward was the issue of staff members at the SHWC coming off as offensive or dismissive when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. Especially when it comes to a mental health, inclusion of all gender and sexuality identities is paramount to ensuring adequate emotional and mental stability. Reh responded that she would be providing specific feedback about issues of non-inclusion and lack of proper knowledge over gender and sexuality identities to each staff member of the department’s counseling services. Additional training to ensure that the entire department is properly equipped to handle these issues may also be looked into, as is deemed necessary by Reh.

The next item on the meeting’s agenda was a clarification of sorts. Senator Castro reported that some students believe that the SHWC has been hit by a series of university budget cuts that have required the department to remove many of its mental health providers and staff members. Oftentimes these issues of understaffing has manifested itself in the form of exorbitantly long wait times for initial counseling intake appointments to be scheduled, an issue that is strong enough to discourage students from reaching out for mental health services. Reh conceded that this past academic year has been wrought with a consistent issue of the SHWC not having full staff, but she also made it clear that the department is doing everything in its power to remedy this issue. A new staff therapist has already been hired by the SHWC, and the revival of its training program is expected to bring another five therapists into the department’s lineup. The belief that the department has been the victim of university budget cuts is a complete misconception; while the past academic year has seen a high turnover among SHWC employees, these were not the result of internal austerity of administrative cuts. Instead, Reh explained that a variety of “life circumstances”, ranging from pregnancy to outside job offers, all contributed to the decline in staff of the department. Reh is confident, however, that by the summer, the department will be fully staffed and ready for the coming academic years.

Another student present at the meeting inquired regarding the official process for seeing the department’s psychiatrist and being prescribed psychostimulants and other medications. Reh responded that the department upholds a policy where students who see the psychiatrist are to also be enrolled in regular therapy sessions through the department. Students who are already having regular therapy sessions can make a psychiatry appointment through the usual online appointment system (available at http://web.iit.edu/shwc/appointments).

The final item of the meeting’s discussion was another student inquiry into what exact services the department is actually medically capable of offering. Reh expressed that one of her main priorities for the department in the coming academic year is to improve how students perceive what the department can and cannot do. Obviously, the SHWC is not a fully-equipped hospital and is not equipped to handle every medical issue, but the department is capable of performing routine check-ups, blood draws, and immunizations. In addition, the department is able to assess what specialized treatment an individual may need and where this treatment can be found. It is also important to note that, regardless of insurance, all of the SHWC’s services are free, except when lab work or referrals are needed. Any student is welcome to schedule an appointment online at the above link.

This first meeting of the SHWAB concluded with Reh asking that if any students know of any communal issues they would like to see the SHWC program events and initiatives to cater towards, they are strongly encouraged to reach out to her at creh@iit.edu. In addition, Senator Castro will continue to function as a collector of student feedback and questions regarding the SHWC, and he can be reached at ecastro3@hawk.iit.edu.