Make long-term, inclusive, and 24/7 emergency mental health care services available at USC

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Dear President C.L. Nikias,
I request you and the University of Southern California (USC) Administration to consider this petition to ensure and enhance the mental health alongside the physical wellbeing and safety for 44,000 members of the Trojan family. I am requesting USC to extend the one-semester limit to student access of Engemann counseling services to two semesters, hire additional bilingual counseling services staff specialized in addressing the mental health needs of highly diverse student communities and identities, and provide 24/7 emergency walk-in services at the USC Engemann Student Health Center.

This petition outlines three proposed solutions to address urgent mental health concerns that I and many Trojans have faced in receiving counseling at the Engemann Student Health Center. The proposed considerations are necessary to create environments of inclusive, professional, and emergency care needed for all Trojans to function at their optimum mental and physical health on campus. More so, these three solutions will enable Trojans to locate and make a stable transition to cost-effective, high quality off-campus care options if necessary, and enable us to be proactive in ensuring our personal and community safety during personal emergencies as well as incidents on and off-campus occurring during the after hours of the USC Engemann Health Center (after 5 p.m. on weekdays, weekends).

USC is home to the largest international, multi-ethnic student population in the nation. While USC has excelled in recruiting talented young adults from over eleven countries, yet a lot remains to be done to ensure our mental well-being on campus especially during a time of our major personal and professional growth. With the rise of mental health care crises across college campuses nationwide, such as the long waiting times due to inadequate numbers in staffing at campus health centers, students are at increasing risk of facing crises alone unsuccessfully. We must take decisive steps to prevent these crises from escalating and leaving the emotional and physical safety of our fellow Trojans, as well as that of our community, at risk. As students paying the highest tuition fees in the nation and upholding USC’s ranks as one of America’s top 23 universities, and as human beings, we deserve sustained access to high quality, inclusive, and emergency-based (24/7) mental health services not limited to a single semester of care.

While the decision to provide short-term care on campus is based on demands exceeding the capacities of USC and universities to provide sustained care to all students with long-term mental health needs, one semester is not long enough for a student to receive care and be able to transition themselves to an off-campus provider with a sense of stability and belonging on campus. The transition to off-campus care does not operate according to an academic calendar, thus many students suffer a dangerous gap in care over holiday breaks and must make decisions regarding long-term care under the demands of enrollment into courses, extracurriculars and work and adjustment to personal living arrangements. It may be half-way through the semester before a student establishes access to off-campus care and means of getting there.

With automatic enrollment in USC’s Aetna Student Health Insurance after enrollment in 6 units and payment of the Student Health Center fee, all international and domestic undergraduates and graduates at UPC have access to approximately 16 sessions of 30-45 minutes each week of individual counseling services (psychiatry/psychology), or a maximum of 12 hours of on-campus counseling for our entire four academic years. The costs of campus care for all students except online-degree and satellite students with USC Aetna student health insurance for the Spring/Summer 2017 semester are $1,170.00, approximately $73.12 per session for 16 sessions. It takes approximately 2 sessions to know whether or not a doctor is a good fit for your health needs and 2 sessions to figure out off-campus care options based on your insurance and waitlist availabilities, which leaves only 12 sessions or a maximum of 9 hours (45 min./week) dedicated to treatment. By the time a student finishes his or her last session at the health center during finals week in either Spring or Fall, it is very challenging to begin care at an off-campus care provider during such a busy and high-stress time period.

In addition to the barriers created by limited sessions and inadequate support transitioning to off-campus providers, the University Health Center is greatly hampered by the lack of specialized staff. The Administration must alleviate the burdens of staffing at the USC Engemann Health Center to provide inclusive mental and physical health care to a highly diverse student population. According to USC 2016-17 statistics, there are approximately 1,150 students to one professional licensed counselor at Engemann. Taking this discrepancy into consideration, the Engemann Center is greatly hampered in addressing mental health needs by adequate professional staff specialized in addressing the mental health needs of a highly multicultural, multiracial, gender inclusive, and international student population.

There are only 37 licensed professionals providing for the mental health needs of 44,000 Trojans enrolled for the 2016-17 academic year. At the Engemann, there are only 13 full-time staff psychologists (1 part-time), 7 staff clinical social workers, 1 full-time psychiatrist (1 part-time), 2 psychotherapists, 12 training staff (postdoctoral fellows, social work students, practicum counselors); In addition, there is only 1 referral coordinator to manage the mental health services and access of 44,000 Trojans. With a student body population that is 5.6% Black/African-American, 17.6% Asian, and 13.0% Hispanic (About USC AYR 2016-17), it is essential to address student mental health needs by addressing the various multicultural, international experiences and perspectives of mental health issues and care to overcome the barriers of mental health stigma and care on campus. Of the 25 licensed staff, only 6 have professional specialization in addressing LGBTQ+ mental health and wellness, 4 staff in addressing ethnic/cultural identity development (1 in African American, 1 in multi-ethnic), and only 1 staff specialized in racial and cultural identity formation and mental health in men of color, and 1 specialized in cross-cultural adjustment and transition.

Lastly, the USC Engemann Health Center does not have 24/7 emergency counseling walk-in services necessary for Trojans to be able to be proactive about self-care during personal crises and frequent on-campus incidents, including but not limited to the loss of loved ones, end of a relationship, a move, an illness, and crime. There is a higher likelihood of incidents happening after the Center’s closing time at 5 p.m., when more students participate in off-campus Greek life and other activities in the surrounding University Park neighborhoods. While the USC Dept. of Public Safety is trained to provide immediate legal protection and response to ongoing incidents of criminal nature around campus, they are not trained in providing immediate, psychological support necessary. As students with a lot of their own responsibilities, residential advisors in USC's student residential halls and apartments also have very limited ability to provide sustained care after the crisis in the appropriate manner that will be proactive, not just reactive to the circumstances.

The first and proximate option of emergency care for USC students is at the off-campus psychology clinic at the USC Health and Science Campus, which has only two full-time therapists at the USC off-campus Psychology Clinic with minimum 5 week waiting lists; The largest revenue stream for USC at 34% or $1,467 million in FY 2016 (USC Financial Report 2016), health care service revenue on campus is majorly from medical services provided by the combined operations of Keck Hospital of USC, USC Norris Cancer Hospital, and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. In light of an increasing number of mental health-related emergencies on UPC campus, USC must also focus on providing priority inpatient and outpatient services to its students alongside its regional patients.

The extension of the one-semester counseling limit to two semesters, the hiring of additional staff who specialize in cultural/ethnic and LGBTQ+ identities, and the creation of 24/7 counseling services will give recognition and agency of recovery to the hundreds of Trojans currently facing the added struggles of coping with mental health issues on campus. These three changes to the quality and access of counseling services at USC Engemann Health Center can ensure the University’s promises of security and well-being we, as students, need to reach our maximum personal, academic and professional potentials.

With additional time to make decisions about long-term mental and physical health via off-campus care, Trojans will be able to make a decision about their health care that best suits their academic and professional goals and ability to thrive with a sense of security on campus. The addition of more trained and specialized Engemann staff will aid in USC’s efforts to provide intentional support for the varying populations represented at USC, whether this support be for mental illness or short-term instabilities. Adding well trained professional staff and staff who are aware and educated regarding the experiences and needs of marginalized identities and communities. Not relying on training students will ensure that students seeking help are not forced to hide or exaggerate their health in order to match the demands of waiting periods. Further, on campus, 24/7 emergency counseling services are essential to providing students a needed safety net at their most vulnerable and to sustain the safety and wellbeing of all Trojans within the vibrant campus culture USC has created respectively in South Central Los Angeles.

The first impressions of the quality and access to campus health services play a decisive role in a student’s decision to seek help for their mental and physical health needs and to feel a sense of personal wellbeing and security on their campus. Noting the quality and access of support available to a student seeking help can make a crucial difference as to whether or not they continue seeking support that they need to be healthy. If a person has a bad experience with campus services, they may not seek support again and risk their health as well as that of their immediate communities in silence. Having staff who are well trained in multiple areas (such as race/ethnicity, gender identity/expression, religion, class, family/relationship dynamics, sexual/romantic orientation, etc.) and counseling resources that assess and match the real mental health needs of students on campus are essential first steps to the long-term well-being and growth of the Trojan family.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration of this petition. I look forward to your response.




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