In the summer of 2021, as the number of Covid cases dwindled and vaccination rates soared, Nicole Ruzek, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Virginia, saw “the writing on the wall”: When students return to in-person classrooms in the fall, face-to-face Demand for consulting services will rise again.

But over the summer, counseling center staff noticed a new barrier to care that made it difficult for them to lighten their workloads — many of them when they tried to refer students to local providers for long-term care are full.

They need another solution.

Enter TimelyCare, a virtual platform that provides students with 24/7 mental health care services, and their university will be involved. UVa’s Counseling Center contracts with TimelyMD, the Texas telemedicine company that operates TimelyCare, in fall 2021. Instead of waiting weeks for care at a campus counseling center, students can now speak to a counselor or psychiatrist within days and receive emergency mental health support in minutes.

UVa is one of 170 U.S. campuses that have contracted with TimelyMD, which says it serves more than 800,000 college students nationwide through its mental health and medical services.

During the pandemic, the university has increasingly relied on virtual solutions to treat students’ mental health issues and has contracted with various telehealth companies to provide 24/7 care even when students and providers are not on campus. The head of the counseling center said the protocols played an important role in helping the center meet the growing mental health needs of students, and while third-party providers didn’t always address ability issues, they were helping universities stay ahead of the curve. The mental health needs of the wider student population.

The golden age of teletherapy

Before the pandemic closed the university, campus counseling centers were the provider of choice for mental health support for many students.according to Fall 2019 Data from the American College Health Association showed that 26 percent of students reported receiving mental health care in the previous year; of those students, 53.5 percent said they received it on campus.

“What we’re seeing in counseling centers across the country is that the demand for services far outstrips the number of staff in college counseling centers,” said Ryan Patel, president-elect and senior staff member of the mental health division of the American College Health Association. Patel) said the Ohio State University psychiatrist. “As a result, more students need mental health services than providers.”

What we’ve seen in counselling centres across the country is that the demand for services far outstrips the number of staff.

Ryan Patel, American College Health Association

Data shows that the pandemic has created more demand for mental health care among college students.inside Fall 2019, ACHA’s National College Health Assessment surveyed more than 38,000 students from 58 colleges; 18% reported severe psychological distress. By fall 2021, that number had risen to 22 percent, according to a survey of 33,000 students at 41 universities.

The growing need of college students mirrors that of American society as a whole, as both providers and patients are quarantined at home.Governor passed executive order Allow out-of-state mental health providers to practice in their state. Online mental health technology is taking off as a way for therapists to continue seeing existing patients and connect with new ones.

Universities have invested in these platforms as campus advising centers face skyrocketing demand. The telehealth company has 24/7 availability, a diverse provider network and licensed clinicians in all 50 states. Students can get help via video, phone, text or chat—sometimes in just a few minutes.

Data from the Association of College and College Counseling Center Directors’ 2019-2020 Annual Report Reveals Rapid College Transition to Virtual Nursing: In the Eight-and-a-half Months Ended March 15, 2020 – The Moment Pandemic Upended U.S. Higher Education Education – Counseling centers averaged a total of 17.1 video conferences; in the same period after that, they averaged 1,164.8 sessions, an increase of nearly 7,000%.

Students say their experiences with teletherapy and other virtual care have been mostly positive, and the director of the University Counseling Center says the feedback they’ve received has been mostly positive.

Rebecca Schell, a 2021 graduate of Susquehanna University in Sallings Grove, Pa., says she’s grateful she can “lay in bed for therapy after the Zoom date” “.

“I don’t have to deal with the treatment tax that comes with getting treatment,” Schell said. “I think it’s a great tool…because it helps to allocate resources to students who may not want or can’t get therapy.”

University’s new fees

Today, on-campus teletherapy is big business. TimelyMD received a $60 million investment from a private equity firm in January 2021 to expand its teletherapy and telehealth services. At the time, it served 80 campuses—a number that has more than doubled since then. Contracts can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars; last year, the 17-campus Connecticut State College and University awarded TimelyMD a two-year contract worth $660,000 to provide telehealth and counseling services to students at a federal cost Covid relief fund payments. TimelyMD leaders told chronicle The cost of its contract depends on the needs and size of the college.

For campuses struggling to hire counselors and meet ballooning demand for services, the expense could be well worth it.

One advantage: Reduced wait times for services, which can be particularly long when consulting staff are out for coronavirus-related reasons.

“We’ll have employees who are sick or caring for children and can’t come to work for Covid-related reasons,” UVa’s Ruzek said. “We really need a backup plan to fill the void.”

With many counseling centers operating on a 9-to-5 schedule, telemental health providers can help with coverage and triage needs. Luke Hejl, CEO of TimelyMD, says about 40 percent of their visits take place after hours.

“A lot of times, counseling centers can’t meet that need,” Hejl said. “Furthermore, we’ve found that many times there’s a wait of about two weeks” — students don’t have immediate access to campus clinics. Counseling center directors are trying to get students to speak to providers as quickly as possible, and that’s where TimelyCare can come into play, he said.

In some cases, additional support from a teletherapy provider can free up campus counselors to provide services that can only be provided in person. At Reed College in Oregon, for example, an agreement with Uwill, a digital mental health solutions company, gives counseling centers the ability to offer outdoor group therapy, bringing isolated students into the community with one another.

But the head of the counselling centre said it would be inaccurate to say their workload was reduced. Instead, they say, the technologies have encouraged more student exposure — including those who had not previously been exposed to college counseling.

Before the pandemic, Johns Hopkins counseling centers were hosting about 19.5 percent of the eligible population, said Kevin G. Shollenberger, vice provost for student health and well-being. That percentage dropped slightly when Hopkins signed up with TimelyCare during the pandemic, but has since rebounded, Shollenberger said, even though 4% of students are still using TimelyCare.

“I think it’s more about allowing us to reach a wider population,” he said. “It helps us focus more on students who may have ongoing needs.”

These services can also help colleges that lack on-campus mental health care but serve a growing generation. expect these services.

in a 2020 Survey According to a report by the American Council on Education, 21 percent of public two-year college presidents report that their institutions do not provide mental health services. The overall rate for higher education institutions is 9% (the latest data from ACE is not available).

not a substitute

Counseling center leaders made it clear that they are not eliminating in-person services, which they say may still be the best option for some people.

That could include students who don’t have the private space at home to discuss personal difficulties with a professional, said Nathaan Demers, a former campus psychologist and vice president and director of clinical programs at Grit Digital Health. Digital mental health solutions. Additionally, Demers said, on-campus counselors’ familiarity with their institutions may be an asset that most third-party providers don’t have.

Many counseling centers see teletherapy as an extension of their work. At Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black institution in Charlotte, North Carolina, the arrangement with TimelyMD reflects the diversity of its student body.

“We’ve asked to have therapists of color who look like our students so it can help address the stigma surrounding mental health and make our students more comfortable accessing and using these services,” said Tierra Parsons, the college’s Director of Counseling Services. “Even in marketing — we specifically asked for people of color to represent different cultures in imagery and publicity.”

The Campus Counseling Center also coordinates with teletherapy providers to transfer students to the best form of care, sharing student records within the confines of HIPAA and FERPA laws.

“TimelyCare has its own system of confidential records, like our records in the counseling center, which are protected by HIPAA,” said Johns Hopkins’ Shollenberger. “As a third party, we do have an arrangement with them to share these records if needed. So we don’t review the records, but if TimelyCare is looking at a student and the clinician thinks they will be transferred to Hopkins It might be better for a nursing center in Sri Lanka to share those records, or if a student is caught in a crisis, we need to know that.”

Johnson C. Smith’s Parsons said the agreement with TimelyMD gives employees “peace of mind.”

“Some people may be silent about their mental health issues, and they may be trying the service for the first time,” Parsons said. “So we’re excited to be able to meet their needs in this way, especially on the HBCU campus.”