This fall, Boynton aims to remedy long wait times

Administrators hope increased staff will make mental health resources more accessible.

Kevin Beckman

Following a nearly $300,000 boost in mental health services, Boynton Health Service is aiming to significantly cut down — if not eliminate — its wait times for mental health counseling. 

To help address the growing demand for mental health services at the University, the investment is enough to staff six-and-a-half full-time-equivalent counselors at Boynton. Boynton plans to hire the equivalent of four full-time counselors, and Student Counseling Services will hire the equivalent of two-and-a-half counselors, according to officials from each center.

 “We’re getting the full complement of what we said we needed,” said Carl Anderson, Boynton’s director and chief health officer.

Anderson said Boynton has requested funding for additional positions for the past few years to meet growing needs, and that the administration has been responsive to Boynton’s requests.

In 2015, nearly 33 percent of University students reported a mental health diagnosis in their lifetime — an increase from about 25 percent in 2007, according to Boynton College Student Health Surveys.

Glenn Hirsch, a Student Counseling Services senior psychologist, said all of SCS’s funding will go toward paying either mental health counselors or academic and career counselors. 

Anderson said Boynton’s hope is that the new positions will reduce the waiting list for students to see counselors or therapists, though he said wait times may not disappear entirely. 

“Sometimes the students have scheduling conflicts and can’t make an open time slot,” Anderson said. “Just because a therapist has time open doesn’t mean the student will.”  

Wait times fluctuate during the school year, typically hitting peak points during the middle of each semester. If counselors aren’t readily available to meet with a student, wait times can last from three days to two weeks, said Holly Ziemer, Boynton’s communications and marketing director.

Students waiting for services are still in contact with Boynton staff every day in case another student cancels an appointment, she said.   

“A continuous process”

In February, the Provost’s Committee on Student Mental Health recommended increasing clinical mental health staff by eight full-time employee positions on the Twin Cities campus, calling for four new positions at Boynton Health Service and four at Student Counseling Services.   

The recommendation took into account that half of the advised increases in staff were already planned as a result of an increase of student service fees approved by the Student Services Fees committee in 2015, Ziemer said.

The allocated mental health funds from student service fees — nearly $100,000 — were included in University President Eric Kaler’s 2017 operating budget and will fund two full-time-equivalent therapist positions at Boynton. 

The University’s Board of Regents voted to approve Kaler’s budget at their meeting in June. 

The same month, the University committed an additional $200,000 to fund two-and-a-half full-time-equivalent positions at SCS and two more full-time-equivalent positions at Boynton, meeting the Provost’s Committee’s recommendation of four total positions for Boynton.

“Student mental health is a top public health issue across our system,” Kaler said in his June report to the board. “We will continue mental health access across our system campus.” 

In his report, Kaler said the administration is continuing to look for new ways to invest in mental health services.

“We also are working closely with faculty governance to identify other steps we can take to address this as the comprehensive public health issue that it is,” Kaler said. 

Hirsch said he is confident mental health resources will continue to see added investments. 

In addition to weighing current and future funding levels against students’ need for care, Anderson said Boynton, Student Counseling Services and the University’s administration are continuously evaluating students’ demands and looking for ways to meet them, like through peer education and online services. 

“It’s a continuous process,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to accommodate students to the ways they would like services. … Some of those might require changes or shifts in the budget.” 

Anderson said the funds for the next two years are part of ongoing initiatives to help students succeed in school. 

“President Kaler called this an investment, and that’s exactly what it was,” he said. “This was an investment in student success.”