In the calm and quiet lecture halls and auditoriums, coughing fits exploded in 10-minute intervals. The sneezing and sniffles drowned out the professor’s voice. The unscrewing of water bottle caps echoed in my ears. Crumpled tissues overflowed the dorm trash bins. And before I knew it, I, too, was becoming a musician in this symphony.
Students weren’t the only ones left with questions after the administration sent out an email to students last week outlining plans for mental health reforms on campus. The Sophie Fund, an advocacy group focused on supporting mental health initiatives in Ithaca, called the plans “disappointing” in a posted response.
Warning: The following content contains sensitive material about mental health and depression. Cornell’s response to six student suicides between 2009 and 2010 was the installation of nets over Ithaca’s gorges. These nets — monuments of the mental health crisis at Cornell — overshadow both Ithaca’s natural beauty and Cornell’s stellar research infrastructure. They remind us that something is wrong on Cornell’s campus. Six years after starting my astrophysics Ph.D., I still remember the first time I saw the nets.
Current full-time students at Cornell must be enrolled in a health insurance plan that provides in-network coverage at the Cayuga Medical Center, which is the only hospital in Ithaca. However, Cornell’s Student Health Benefits Advisory Committee determined that beginning on May 1, 2019, full-time students may satisfy health insurance coverage with a plan that does not include CMC as an in-network provider. One of the main reasons for this change is that over 20 percent of Cornell students have coverage offered by UnitedHealthcare, which does not work with CMC as an in-network provider. Instead of requiring thousands of students to change insurance provider to gain access to CMC as an in-network provider, SHBAC is going to “encourage” all full-time students to have in-network coverage at CMC, according to the Student Health Benefits website. The new health insurance requirement is controversial because there is no obvious solution.
Unlike Iran policy, central bank reform or wildlife conservation, health care is a quotidian issue. The cost of premiums and copays are a consistent burden for the 28 percent of working-age adults who are underinsured. The price of prescriptions and hospital visits can’t be ignored without serious effects on economic stability. The future of health care is a hot topic, and it would behoove candidates (presidential, congressional and otherwise) and voters to pay attention. The debate over the state of our health care system has consumed classrooms (shoutout to PAM 2350: the U.S. Healthcare System), dining rooms, the pages of health care and medical journals and the Congressional floor.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the accessibility and quality of student mental health services continue to be of high interest to the Cornell community. Written recommendations, like those submitted by the student-led Mental Health Taskforce, and ongoing discussions amongst campus stakeholders, like those facilitated by the Coalition on Mental Health, continue to highlight ways in which we can improve services and better support students. A recurring theme is that student demand for counseling services exceeds the possible support Counseling and Psychological Services can provide. While more than 22 percent of Cornell students used CAPS services in the last academic year, CAPS reports that for students seeking individual counseling, they aim to schedule first appointments within two weeks with wait times increasing even further during periods of high demand. The wait to see a counselor for individual counseling is a significant barrier to receiving high-quality care in a timely manner for many students.
The Undergraduate Student Assembly discussed creating a representative position for students with disabilities, although no official decision was made at the S.A. meeting Thursday afternoon. At the same meeting, the S.A. also passed a resolution calling for the creation of a Student Health Advisory Committee, which aims to establish a committee “in conjunction with the GPSA and Cornell Health to improve quality of care and collaboration at Cornell Health.”
Across the country, the last few weeks have brought with them the rise of influenza in homes, schools, communities, health centers and hospitals. As the spring semester begins, I’ve engaged with students, faculty and staff about preparing and responding to the flu season at Cornell. Many have asked: How bad is this year’s flu season likely to be? How does Cornell Health prepare? Are we as a community safe?
Hua and Kieley discussed their personal experiences with mental health, experiences interacting with Cornell’s current mental health system and their time working with the Task Force over the past year.