Virtual health, counseling services keeping students on track

 One thing is certain in our COVID-19 world of uncertainty: We have all had to adjust to unanticipated changes to our daily lives and disruptions to our routines. Change can be unsettling, even provoking anxiety and other mental health issues, which is why it’s more important than ever to stay connected and engaged, not only to each other but to the university.

Heidelberg has been at the front of the pack in transitioning to telehealth services for students.

Early in the COVID-19 health crisis, after the campus was closed to protect everyone’s safety and health, the Stoner Health and Counseling Center launched online health and mental health services for students, just as if they were on campus.

“The transition was very rapid for us, but very smooth,” said Janelle Baldosser, the center’s director. “Once we were established (with telehealth services), we made sure our patients and clients felt comfortable with it.”

Since then, the Stoner team has maintained a steady flow of counseling appointments remotely. Although the tele-counseling sessions aren’t face to face, they have been productive and efficient, according to John Sharp, associate director of counseling.

"No issue is too big or too small,” John said. “If it’s something which is not appropriate to handle remotely, we will connect students to local resources."

Since tele-counseling was made available, all current clients were contacted by their counselor. Most all students responded and many expressed interest in continuing with the counselor they had already been meeting. Other clients have also contacted the counseling center to initiate services" Faculty and staff members also have made referrals to the counseling center.

“It’s going really well. We’ve felt like as a staff, it’s been very smooth,” John said. The online sessions might even be more efficient. “Students still get to talk to someone directly and they seem to be more focused on the issue at hand,” he said.

Additionally, the health center is providing telemedicine services to students. Janelle, who is also a nurse practitioner, said she has provided medical advice to students and has even refilled some medications. “Telemedicine represents a unique opportunity to ensure continuity of care for our students remotely, while minimizing risk of exposure to COVID-19.”  said the team has answered questions from students and she has refilled some medications, all remotely.

Although the state did remove some licensing restrictions to ease the process of telehealth and counseling, it was important to the Stoner Health and Counseling Center team to maintain HIPPA compliance to protect student privacy.

So far, the counselors have dealt with a myriad of issues, spanning a number of different disorders. Many have focused on adjustment issues – dealing with home life, getting used to online classes, figuring out schedules and routines. If a student is dealing with a severe mental health issue, the Stoner counselors make a referral to local resources for the student.

“We really feel like our students are responding and communicating well with the counselors,” John said. “It’s been important to keep some level of consistency. For some, that’s been a real comfort.”

Everyone reacts to stressful situations differently, Janelle said. “Lots of us are going to experience fear and worry. We want our students to know, ‘We’re here for you. Reach out to us and take care of yourselves.’”


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