February 28, 2011

Cornell Ups Gannett Budget For Mental Health by $1 Million

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After a string of student suicides on campus and increased demand for mental health services, the University is putting an additional $1 million into Gannett Health Services to combat increased demand for student mental health counseling.

This fall, Gannett saw an 18-percent increase in the number of phone calls from students seeking mental health assistance, according to Gregory Eells, associate director of Gannett. This surge in demand for counseling services — a trend that, according to Eells, has been continuing for the past 10 to 12 years — triggered the permanent budget increase.

Although Gannett has not yet decided how to use all the new money, Eells said that most of the allocation will go to hiring new therapists. Gannett hopes to add five new counselors and one nurse practitioner to its current staff of thirty mental health professionals, he said.

Other improvements that Gannett aims to make with the additional funding, according to Eells, include an increased availability of individual and group counseling, as well as medication management for Cornell students.

The funding was secured for the next three years and will come from both internal and alumni sources, according to Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services. Though the decision was made at the end of last year, Cornell administrators announced the allocation on Feb. 11 at a Caring Community Roundtable Discussion. The new funding will go into effect next year.

Murphy said that, in light of recent budget cuts, the University must deviate from “across the board” strategies and attempt to be more focused with its funding.

“We are trying to invest at the most critical level,” Murphy said. “We are trying to deploy our resources as strategically as we can.”

Due to waiting lists for Gannett’s services, as well as complaints received from students about the waiting time, the administration decided Gannett was a critical investment, according to Murphy.

Nevertheless, Murphy acknowledged that the recent allocation to Gannett could not address the needs of the entire student body.

“I could put all of my money in Gannett and miss the needs of 80 percent of students, or I could put none of my money in Gannett, and all of it in student programs, and miss the needs of 20 percent of students that could not possibly be here without that medical support,” Murphy said.

Though Gannett’s budget will increase, other efforts within the mental health initiative have seen reductions in funding.

Denice Cassaro, associate director of Community Center Programs, an organization that puts on stress relieving study break activities, said that the recent budget cuts have caused a shift in programming from larger events to smaller activities conducted weekly.

“The present funding environment has been challenging for everyone across campus,” Cassaro said. “Difficult decisions have to be made and priorities readjusted.”

Even organizations that receive funding from the administration remain in a state of financial struggle.

Although funded by both the Office of the Dean of Students and the Student Assembly, the Empathy Assistance & Referral Service program is heavily dependent on the flexibility of their staff members, who work seven to ten unpaid hours a week, according to director of the EARS program Janet Shortall.

“It is amazing when you consider that most of our counselors are full time Cornell students, that EARS is able to provide support to students at Cornell every afternoon and evening,” Shortall said.

Shortall said the Office of Dean of Students “has had to work hard to figure out how to provide the services we do with less financial resources at our disposal.”

Last semester, the University gave $150,000 to Gannett as a singular allocation because the University was uncertain that it could afford to make the investment permanent, Murphy said.

“It [the $150,000] was one-time money. We spent it and were then back to the previous funding level,” said Eells. “Competitive salaries for health professionals are high, and that money did not last long.”

While every member of the student population may not pursue Gannett’s counseling services, the demand is present and the additional funding for more therapists is well directed, according to Eells.

“This fall, phone assessment was up 18 percent and we have ten to twelve years of data showing this upward trend in demand,” said Eells. “Some think that these new counselors will be sitting around, waiting for students to come in. This will not be the case, the demand is there.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Gregory Eells, associate director of Gannett.

Original Author: Kayla DeLeon