Health and wellness needs of students being addressed in myriad ways

University Park, Pa. — Penn State is dedicated to improving the level of health services for its students. The new Student Health Center, which houses University Health Services and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, supports the pledge through state-of-the-art lab and pharmacy facilities, new technology, a team approach to medical treatment and new records management software.

In an informational report to Penn State's Board of Trustees, Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, led a panel discussion Friday (Sept. 19) on emerging issues related to the physical and mental health and wellness of Penn State's students. Panelists included Peg Spear, senior director of University Health Services, and Dennis Heitzmann, senior director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Heitzmann, who discussed eliminating the stigma and misunderstanding associated with mental illness, noted that because of intervention and treatment, more students today are able to attend college than ever before. However, referring to the violence recently seen on several campuses throughout the country, Heitzmann focused on the challenges universities face of finding and reaching out to students who may experience increasing levels of pathology and distress.

"Those of us who have dedicated our careers to helping these individuals recognize that they include some of the best and brightest on our campuses," he said. "We all play a role in providing a balanced view of emotionally challenged students, responding to legitimate concerns about threat but also interpreting our clients to those with unwarranted fears and stereotypes."

CAPS, aware of the importance of preparing for the potential reality of violence and other threatening behaviors on campus, is taking precautionary measures, Heitzmann said.

CAPS/Campus initiatives include:

• Workshops for faculty and staff that provide information to help them identify and refer students of concern to CAPS. Online versions of these workshops are available.
• The University Park Response Team — consisting of the interim assistant vice president for Student Affairs, senior director of CAPS, director of University Police, the clinical director of UHS, interim director of Judicial Affairs and the associate dean for Undergraduate Education — to identify students exhibiting behavior perceived as disruptive or threatening and intervening as early as possible.
• A variety of programs focusing on the importance of positive mental health and alerting students to the warning signs of mental health concerns.
• More opportunities in the spacious new Student Health Center to provide enhanced services for students and the campus community.

The move to the new building will help UHS reach the highest standards of practice for the work they do, in both clinical and prevention realms, according to Spear. She said the new space will facilitate compliance with the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) guidelines for health service delivery in the 21st century.

"The result is a new system of clinical service delivery, based on the primary care open access model, possible only because the space was designed with these considerations in mind," Spear said.

Spear explained that every student seeking service from UHS joins one of four multidisciplinary teams, each functioning like a small group practice, so that on return visits, the provider is familiar with the student's medical history. Research on this model, Spear said, shows it makes providing care to more patients possible while increasing patient and staff satisfaction. Staff on each team have adjacent offices and use a nearby cluster of exam rooms. The setup of the clinical floors fosters cooperation. A computer in each clinical space and at check-in kiosks makes it easier to use technology to support the IOM's guidelines. Students can also schedule an appointment online.

The new facility, designed to achieve certification through the standards of Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, not only supports the clinical goals of UHS but also prevention and public health promotion work based on principles set by the World Health Organization. With that in mind, the Health Promotion and Wellness department, near the main building entrance, was designed to invite exploration and encourage students to learn about health and wellness. Spear said it's working; students are streaming into the area and using its services on their own time. Student volunteers in UHS, said Spear, take advantage of the space to gather, plan and learn together.
 

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Last Updated March 19, 2009