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News, University News

Students struggle with navigating CAPS’ resources remotely

Concerns include communication and lack of publicity

By and
Senior Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Under current Rhode Island law, teletherapy is not made available to out-of-state residents. If passed by the U.S. Senate, the TREAT Act would allow healthcare professionals to offer telehealth visits from any state during the pandemic, regardless of the state in which they are licensed.

Counseling and Psychological Services is working hard to offer consistent telehealth appointments and “services have been going well,” CAPS Director Dr. Will Meek wrote in an email to The Herald. But many on-campus groups and students have said that CAPS’ operations fall short of their goal of supporting students.

Students who spoke with The Herald expressed concerns about unclear telehealth regulations, an inability for first-years to access therapy appointments and a lack of emphasis on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 in University messaging.

Since the University transitioned to remote learning in March, CAPS has been offering remote telehealth appointments, Meek wrote. The most significant change from the spring to the fall semester is that CAPS has moved from only offering same-day sessions to also offering next-day sessions. “Basically anyone that wants to see a provider here can request an appointment and be seen the next working day,” Meek wrote.

Since switching to remote services, CAPS has been able to honor appointment requests “every day,” according to Meek. Booking appointments is even easier with CAPS’ new web-based appointment request form, Meek wrote. “Within two weeks, it was by far the most popular method for scheduling,” Meek added.

CAPS’ new regulations and lack of publicity have caused Sarah Hoxha ’23 stress and confusion. She and her friends have encountered “general misinformation” about CAPS that individual counselors have not clarified, she said.

One such issue is that many students were under the impression that they could not access CAPS’ telehealth services out of state while taking classes remotely. According to Hoxha, her counselor explained that “because of Rhode Island law, (she) wouldn’t be able to continue teletherapy” once she moved back home. Instead, she said he directed her to “find a therapist in (her) area.”

It wasn’t until Hoxha decided to reach out to CAPS in September that she learned that this policy of not being able to offer teletherapy to non-R.I. residents “is not, and has never been (CAPS’) policy,” according to an email she received from Meek. But by this point, Hoxha had already spent the summer under the impression that she was ineligible for CAPS’ remote services. “If you don’t reach out or you don’t know someone who reached out, you wouldn’t actually know the policy yourself,” she said.

In response to questions about this experience, Meek wrote that “the landscape for interstate telehealth is constantly changing given the pandemic” and that CAPS’ website is up to date with the most recent information. CAPS’ website currently states that “CAPS has services available for all current students … both near campus or away.”

Meek also hopes that the TREAT Act will be passed soon because “laws on providing care outside of Rhode Island can change state by state at anytime,” he wrote, “so passing the TREAT Act would make working with students in other parts of the country much more reliable.”  The TREAT Act was introduced to the U.S. Senate on Aug. 4 and is a bill that would — if passed — allow health care professionals to provide telehealth visits from any state during the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of their state of licensure. 

Another issue for students is that first-years are ineligible to access CAPS therapy services. First-years will not have full access to Health & Wellness services (including CAPS, Health Services, BWell and EMS) until they begin school in January, Meek wrote.

Jack Riccardo-Wood ’21, president of Brown’s chapter of Active Minds, a mental health awareness and education group, said that the policy is “not really fair” for first-years. Riccardo-Wood said that first-years are in one of “the most pivotal points” of their lives transitioning into adulthood while “not really meeting anyone in person from Brown.”

Still, Meek wrote that first-years can attend some of CAPS’ workshops and outreach programs. CAPS is also able to help first-years find local counselors near them, and to help them plan ahead for January.

Students also voiced concerns about how the University has promoted CAPS as a resource, as well as its attention to mental health during the return to campus.

Molly Lavin ’21, the vice president of Active Minds, said she was concerned that the University’s focus on students’ physical health was sidelining their mental health. 

Riccardo-Wood agreed with Lavin, adding that in campaigns like Brown Takes Care and on social media, the University doesn’t address the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Silver Mckie ’22, co-coordinator of Brown’s chapter of Project Let’s Erase the Stigma (LETS), a mental health advocacy group, said that none of the health-related emails that students receive, including those that ask students to update their symptoms and schedule COVID-19 tests, reference the mental health impacts of COVID-19 and promote CAPS as a viable resource.

Tanya Purdy, chair of the Brown Takes Care campaign, wrote in an email to The Herald that the goal of the campaign is to be “a comprehensive COVID prevention and education” resource, adding that the campaign’s “messages are shaped based on primary prevention guidelines and the needs shared with us.”

“The storytelling aspect of the public health campaign is designed for everyone to use in ways that are authentic to them, which has included messages about health equity, mental health and social wellbeing,” Purdy wrote.

Evan Dong ’22, policy coordinator for Project LETS, said that the lack of in-person contact prompted by the pandemic makes it hard for students to reach out to CAPS.

Dong added that they believe that one of the most effective ways for students learn about CAPS is by “hearing from personal experiences” of other students that share similar identities or hearing from student leaders like RPLs in casual in-person conversations, which is no longer possible.

Dong also believes that even if CAPS is a good resource, it uses a “self-advocacy” model that puts a lot of burden on students. Reaching out to CAPS at many times can be “hugely awkward” and “challenging,” especially for those who are just now starting to struggle with mental health, Doug added.

CAPS should not be the only way the University addresses mental health challenges, according to Dong. Instead, the University should be more flexible and have policies that support students so they don’t have to “get asked or have to argue for (themselves)” when asking for extensions or any other academic accommodations.

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