As the end of the semester approaches, the library’s silent study zones are not the only place on campus experiencing increased student traffic. A small—but dedicated—team of professionals and students known as the Health and Counselling Centre can be found in the basement of Davis, supporting students throughout the term and helping them get ready for the challenges of the exam season.
With an increase in outreach and promotional activities offered by the HCC’s peer health educators geared towards health education, the centre has seen 2,082 unique patients from May to October 2015. In other words, one in four students have accessed HCC’s services sometime during the last six months.
“If you have been visiting the HCC, you’ve probably seen a lot of faces,” remarks Chad Jankowski, the health education coordinator at the HCC.
Jankowski further describes the increasing number of students visiting during November and the end of the semester as being perfectly aligned with the predicted student cycle.
Staffed with five part-time physicians, one part-time psychiatrist and three registered nurses, the HCC operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. While most services are appointment-based, HCC professionals are equipped to provide crisis support for students in distress. Not only do the registered nurses assess and triage walk-in patients, but they are also the front-line staff you’ll encounter if you require over-the-counter medication, medical counselling, or first aid.
Students are strongly advised to book appointments by either calling the centre or visiting in person ahead of time, as options for same-day appointments are limited. Waiting times for an appointment with a physician can vary anywhere from three days to two weeks.
“If students can’t be seen on the same day, they usually get a physician appointment within two days. As with mental health though, we triage based on urgency. So for example, we would try to give a person coming in with a urinary tract infection an appointment on the same day, whereas a two-week waiting time is likely for something non-urgent, like an annual physical,” says Jankowski.
On any given morning, the HCC accommodates a minimum of three students per physician. On a single day, physicians may accommodate a maximum of 12 students each, varying according to the nature and duration of an appointment.
The HCC has adopted a holistic approach towards student wellbeing and offers four core services: medical care, dietetics, the continually expanding mental health care services, and health promotion and education.
Mental health support services range from counsellor-facilitated group therapy sessions and one-on-one sessions to support offered by community partners, such as Interim Place. Although the wait times for personal counselling appointments do reach three to four weeks during peak periods, two “crisis” appointments are held daily for students assessed as being in distress.
Since 25 percent of all HCC visits are mental health–related, the process for providing help has been largely streamlined for efficiency and aims to provide “short-term, solution-focused counselling and therapy sessions”.
Following an initial phone appointment, a mental health nurse serves as the first point of contact for a student coming in to seek mental health support, where the two work together to decide on future steps.
“Since there really is no right or wrong reason for a student to be seeking help, this serves as a bridging service,” describes Jankowski.
The centre continues to provide vaccines, safer sex supplies, and birth control at a modest cost. Verification of student illness forms are provided for free if required for academic purposes, and if the student is seen at the time of illness. The HCC is also the channel through which third-party requests, such as TB tests and immunization, can be completed.
With a nutritionist at the centre available two times a week for educational activities and one-on-one counselling sessions, and initiatives such as the Sneaker Squad, the HCC is actively fighting the ever-looming freshman 15. They have attempted to provide most of their services free of cost and equally available to all—even to those students who have opted out.
While efforts are being made to make services increasingly accessible to students, the HCC places significant emphasis on prevention by making health a daily resource. Since September 2015, 69 health education outreach events, using a peer-to-peer approach, have occurred. The HCC has recorded a total of 5,910 student interactions for the so far this school year, where interactions range from small conversations to handing out flyers.
The HCC also won the 2013 Program of the Year award from the Canadian Organization of University and College Health for the alcohol education initiative “YOLO, so play it safe”, and the 2013 University of Toronto Excellence Through Innovation Award for the MoveU healthy active living campaign.
“In a nutshell, the HCC basically helps students in being happy, healthy, and well,” says Jankowski.
While the HCC is encouraged by the increase in help-seeking behaviour, the centre expresses concern over the challenges being presented due to constraints of resources. A widely shared sentiment at last Wednesday’s HCC student advisory group meeting was concern over the limited number of personnel at the centre. With 2.2 full-time-equivalent personal life counsellors, one mental health nurse, and one residence counsellor serving an approximate population of 13,700 students, the HCC’s resources are stretched.
Being funded entirely by the student services fees and OHIP/UHIP fees, the HCC relies on budget proposal approvals by the QSS, Campus Affairs Committee, and the Governing Council. One such approval made by UTMSU last year allowed for the introduction of a mental health nurse and a medical director.
The HCC provides a perfect study break, with an approximate 80 courses anticipated to participate in the UTM Exam Jam this year. Who knows? You may find yourself agreeing with the 88 to 94 percent of students who, after attending the Exam Jam, finally felt like the university cares about their success.