Bishop Health Center, Willamette’s on-campus resource for counseling and healthcare services, will be returning to a same-day appointment model for its counseling services from Nov. 11 until the end of the semester. For the five weeks the model will be in effect, all appointments asked for will be scheduled for the same day and no appointments will be offered for any day but the same day. This model was implemented twice before by Bishop for the last three weeks of both the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters.
According to Don Thomson, the director of Bishop Wellness Center, the model was successful during both periods it was tested: “It meant that there was zero wait time for a student wanting a counseling appointment… We nearly doubled the amount of new students to the office with this model. These are students that previously would have been turned away in the old schedule model.”
The same-day model poses a challenge to those used to regularly scheduled appointments and to those who need more comprehensive support, Thomson recognized, but the change was made to accommodate the increased demand for Bishop’s counseling services this semester.
“Though it varies slightly depending on staffing, there are about 15 to 18 available counseling appointments in Bishop on a given day. Last week, however, we saw nearly 100 students in Counseling Services,” Thomson said.
The same-day model allows Bishop to see more students on any given day—not because the amount of appointment slots increases, but because the model reduces the amount of no-shows and last-minute reschedules: “Bishop saw a 75 percent reduction in no-shows and last-minute reschedules [under the same-day model]… we feel moving the same-day appointment model up from the last three weeks of the semester to the last five weeks of the semester is a [way to increase accessibility],” Thomson said.
Increased demand for student counseling services is an issue impacting universities across the country, not just Willamette. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, growth in demand for student counseling services was five times greater than growth in student enrollment over the last 10 years. In addition, many schools do not have enough counselors to meet the demand. The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250:1 student/counselor ratio, but Willamette’s ratio is 500:1, which Thomson said is better than that of many peer universities.
Another reason Bishop is struggling to meet demand is due to Oregon’s inability to properly treat mental health. Oregon was ranked 50th in a 2020 ranking of American states by Mental Health America, which assessed on the prevalence of mental illness and accessibility to care.
“Salem is hit particularly hard when it comes to local counseling resources,” Thomson said. “What this means for Bishop is that we cannot rely on our community to manage the overflow of our students wanting services. And, when we are able to make referrals off campus, there are of course additional barriers for some students: insurance, high deductibles and out of pocket expenses, transportation, much longer than Bishop wait times, etc. This is especially true for students from outside Oregon who often have less robust insurance coverage here.”
Bishop created the same-day model last fall with advice from other universities in response to these challenges faced by university student counseling services. They brought the model back for a longer period this semester because the trend of increased demand for student counseling continued. Despite the same-day model’s greater accessibility, Bishop will continue to use the scheduled model in the beginning of semesters in an attempt to strike a balance between students who need immediate appointments and students that need regularly-scheduled appointments throughout the semester.
Thomson also said that the same-day model will likely return again at the end of the spring semester. Historically, demand for appointments has been higher towards the end of the semester during midterm and finals seasons, which is why the same-day model has been implemented at the end of semesters rather than the beginning.
Bishop provides a variety of other services to address the demand. Over the last several years, Bishop has tripled the amount of walk-in appointments during the scheduled model, shortened some appointments to 30 minutes, added the 24/7 WUTalk service and added another full-time counselor and case manager. Bishop has also continued to offer its Mind Spa and Lactation Room.
“Our goal in Bishop is to be as broadly accessible and serve as many students needing support as possible,” Thomson said.