Mental health clinic to expand

Boynton Health Service wants to hire six more mental health clinic workers.

Cody Nelson

To account for increased demand for mental health services, Boynton Health Service is requesting more than $380,000 in increased funding from the University of Minnesota Student Services Fees Committee.

The proposed increase — which would begin in fiscal year 2014 — would primarily be used to hire six new mental health clinic workers and eliminate the $10 co-pay for mental health visits.

“The visits just keep on increasing,” said Boynton Chief Medical Officer Gary Christenson. “Because of that increase, we have a capacity issue.”

Boynton’s mental health clinics have had long waiting lists for mental health assessments and restricted access to follow-up appointments, according to Boynton’s student services fees proposal.

“We’ve changed the system as best as we can … but still we’re not meeting the demand,” Christenson said, adding that mental health-related visits have increased “unlike any other area of the health service” during the past 10 years.

Boynton received almost $8.5 million in student service fees for 2012-13 — the highest amount of any student group or administrative unit, and about 30 percent of the total money allocated by the committee.

The request asks for $383,412 for mental health services in fiscal year 2014 and more than $400,000 in fiscal year 2015.

Most of this money would be used to fund 40 percent of the cost to hire six new mental health workers — two for the East Bank Clinic and four at the St. Paul Mental Health Clinic.

The SSFC’s initial recommendations were to help fund four of the six new staff positions and eliminate the co-pay, said Kyle Olson, chair of the SSFC administrative unit.

He said the committee didn’t recommend the full amount Boynton requested because members thought there were some staff positions Boynton would be able to absorb into its greater budget.

“It’s up to Boynton to spend that money as they see fit, but we made it pretty clear to them that we expect the co-pays to be finished with,” Olson said.

It’s unusual for Boynton to ask for more money from Student Services Fees, Christenson said, but the health service provider has not been meeting demand for mental health issues.

More than a quarter of University students surveyed reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime, according to Boynton’s 2010 College Student Health Survey.

Student Health Advisory Committee member Lauren Beach helped with Boynton’s fee request. She said its request for increased mental health service funding was caused by increasing public demand.

“I feel like it’s not known that mental health is actually really tied into academic success,” she said.

Co-pay is a ‘cost barrier’ to care

Boynton’s request for increased funding would also help to eliminate the $10 co-pay for mental health visits.

Currently, all students not under the Graduate Assistant Health Plan have to pay the $10, but Christenson said Boynton hopes to eliminate this fee.

“We feel that is a cost barrier of care,” he said.

Kareem Darwiche, a speech, language and hearing sciences junior, said a $10 co-pay isn’t significant to students who are already paying for health insurance, but he supports an increase in fees to decrease wait times for mental health visits.

“I can see a benefit if it does decrease wait times,” he said, “but hopefully by half or less than half.”

Co-pays currently provide nearly $73,000 in annual revenue to the clinic, according to a Boynton report. The increase in fees would be used to offset this revenue loss and account for inflation, Christenson said.

Boynton requests increase for Gopher Chauffeur

An increase in funding for the Gopher Chauffeur service, which Boynton took over from the Minnesota Student Association in 2009, is also included in Boynton’s fees request.

The proposal asks for more than $27,000 in increased funding, which would be used for increasing hours of operation and meeting the service’s rising demand.

Boynton received about $60,000 in student service fees for the ride service in 2012-13.

The service has provided more than 10,000 rides home since its start in 2009, which Christenson said was “remarkably successful.”

The SSFC’s report recommends complete funding for the increased Gopher Chauffeur fees request, Olson said.

Boynton’s overall fees request was kept similar to past years in the initial recommendation.

“There weren’t any significant cuts in recommendation,” Olson said.