By Madeline Alvarez, Editor-In-Chief
Students may recently have seen emails inviting them to sign up for services from the Virtual Care Group.
But what is the Virtual Care Group?
SGA entered into a three-month contract with the group, which offers mental health services via telehealth, at the beginning of March. Students can create an account and make an appointment with a therapist at any time of day or night. The cost is included in their student activity fee, and no extra charge will be added.
Student Body President Gabrielle Altenor said that, before her term, SGA was trying to find ways to offer mental health services to students. SGA had been planning to reallocate the money that had been used to cover Student Accident Shield Insurance — or SASI funds — to cover it, she said.
Dean of Students Christine Schneikart-Luebbe said that students had expressed their needs for mental health care even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We felt like COVID just amplified those needs,” she said.
SGA had already been searching when Newman President Kathleen Jagger invited some SGA senators and other community members to attend a demonstration of the Virtual Care Group platform.
Schneikart-Luebbe said that after the demonstration, she and some others called various schools that had contracts with the group so that they could get feedback about those schools’ experiences with it. She received nothing but positive feedback from the school she called, which was Independence Community College, Schneikart-Luebbe said.
Jagger said that the company usually offers only 12-month contracts but that it allowed Newman to enter into a three-month contract.
“They were willing to allow us to get started right away, which was another big constraint,” Schneikart-Luebbe said. “Our students are in need. We wanted to be able to offer this as quickly as possible.”
Jagger said the services are available to all full-time undergraduate students, including online students and those attending other Newman campuses. The services will be available through the end of May, even after the semester ends.
Jagger said that the services won’t be offered over the summer since few students attend summer classes. During that time, Newman will review the statistics and see if entering into a longer contract with the VCG is worth it.
“If there’s enough use and enough interest, then we’ll probably pick it up in August and have a 10-month contract from August to the end of May,” she said.
Jagger also said that, while the services of the VCG during the trial period can only be accessed by undergraduate students, Newman may decide to offer the services to graduate students as well.
“If there’s interest from them, we…want to cover anybody that feels like they need it,” Jagger said.
Schneikart-Luebbe said that another great aspect about the platform is that students can have 24/7 access to services.
“So if it's 11 o'clock at night, when typically a student health center or a counseling and testing center would not be open, students can now get access to what they need whenever they need it,” she said. “And that was a really attractive component for me, that, and the fact that students could pick the counselor they wanted. They could pick the gender. They could pick the ethnicity. They could pick the area of expertise. I just thought it opened up so many options to our students.”
Altenor said that she has been able to utilize the service and have weekly therapy sessions since Newman signed up with the service.
Altenor, who has Haitian heritage, said it’s her first time receiving care from a Black therapist.
“It's really great for me,” she said. “She even used to be married to a Haitian, so that connection right there is something I would not get without the diverse pool of therapists on…Virtual Care Group.”
SGA At-Large Senator Daniel Knolla said that he had a mixed experience when he signed up for a therapy appointment. He said he received an email on the day of his scheduled appointment, which said it had been cancelled, and no reason was given as to why.
He said that he will most likely schedule another appointment.
“I can’t speak through the experience of actually having a session. That’s just been my experience so far,” he said.
Knolla said he still believes it’s a good resource for students.
“I think it’s definitely worth having,” he said.
Altenor said that, as of now, the mental health services through the Mental Health Association, which Newman has offered in the past, are still available and that VCG has not replaced that program. Students are eligible for six free sessions per academic year through the Mental Health Association.
If students would like to set up a session with a therapist from the Virtual Care Group, they can go to www.thevirtualcaregroup.com/newman and set up their account.
PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, unsplash.com