CMU’s integrated center offers physical, mental health services
In the spring of 2014, Colorado Mesa University was wrestling with how to respond to tragedy — reports of sexual assaults, several student suicides and an uptick in drug and alcohol use that year left students and staff worn down.
A group of students and administrators looked at ways to improve physical, emotional and mental health on campus, and a handful of recommendations have gradually changed the way the university approaches health and wellness.
The new student wellness center, located in a renovated Community Hospital building near the corner of 12th Street and Orchard Avenue, is one of the biggest and most obvious changes.
John Marshall, vice president of student services, said one of the most common things students wanted in a new health center was integrated services — for there to be physical, mental and behavioral health care under the same roof. That’s exactly what the new student wellness center accomplishes.
“It’s the same receptionist, the same waiting room and the same front door, so right away there’s this access barrier that’s been removed,” Marshall said. “I’m not walking into a mental health facility, I’m walking into a student wellness center, and you don’t know if I’m walking in because I have the flu or because I have some depression issues.”
The 3,500-square-foot wellness center opened in the fall with 14 offices and exam rooms. It shares the building with Community Hospital’s walk-in clinic, which makes it simple to provide a full range of services to students, whether it’s a flu shot or an X-ray.
The new wellness center also includes a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) room, one of four in the Grand Valley and the only one at a facility that works specifically with young adults. The others are at the Western Slope Center for Children and the two hospital emergency rooms.
“We’re still working out kinks, there’s no question, but today students have one integrated care location where they can go and get help and support for whatever issues they face,” Marshall said.
The difficulty, Marshall said, is finding a balance between what kinds of services students need and which mental or behavioral health specialties are most relevant to Colorado Mesa’s 11,000 students.
Relationship problems range from bad break-ups to sexual assault and domestic violence prevention. There are students who get in trouble for throwing a party in a dorm room, but then there are students who might be struggling with substance abuse. And the spectrum of mental health needs ranges from students who need to meet with a counselor a few times to those who need long-term intervention and medication.
“I think it’s going to be this process of making sure we have the right resources at the right times and in the right volume to support student needs,” Marshall said.
Bob Lang, director of diversity, advocacy and health at Colorado Mesa, said working with students is the same as or easier than working with adults. Lang is also a licensed professional counselor and licensed addiction counselor.
“They’re really proactive about dealing with those things, so in some instances it’s less challenging than dealing with adults,” he said.
Lang wants the university’s behavioral health services to keep growing and to keep offering more specialties, including an eating disorder specialist.
“As our campus grows, it’s important that our services that are oriented toward students grow as well,” he said.
More growth is already in the works, helped by a $250,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. The additional funds will allow the university to contract more mental health specialists, renovate existing classroom space to double as group therapy rooms, and hire a psychiatric nurse.
Sidney Brees-Martinez is a senior at Colorado Mesa and a behavioral health intern at the student wellness center.
Brees-Martinez said having a psychiatric provider on campus will make it that much easier for students to get all of the care they need in one place.
“It’s a lot easier, if someone needs medication regarding behavioral health, that they don’t have to go to separate places,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of students say it’s just something that’s super-beneficial, to have the integrated center, and they probably would not have gone anywhere else to get their behavioral health taken care of.”
Convenience is clearly a factor, as shown by a 31 percent increase in behavioral health visits and a nearly 7 percent increase in medical visits from 2015 to 2016.
“If the access to services is any indication, it’s been very well received,” Lang said.
Brees-Martinez said she hopes students will continue to utilize the center.
“I think it’s important to reach out,” she said. “If you feel like your mental well-being is not as good as it should be, don’t be afraid to reach out and get help and seek resources. We’re right there on campus and it’s so important for people to take care of their mental health.”