Campus support services adapt to COVID-19, furloughs

Two Valparaiso University employees were interviewed for this article. Deaconess Kristin was interviewed before her furlough went into effect on May 15. Amber Mosley is not a furloughed employee. 


Valparaiso University’s administration has been working to adapt to COVID-19 since March. Everyone involved with the university has had to adapt into a more flexible environment .


As Valpo students attempt to adjust to life during COVID-19, mental health has been a topic of conversation and many mental health support service employees have been impacted by pay cuts or furloughs. 


Mental health support services began looking different as the university made changes for student safety. As the academic year came to a close and furloughs took effect, the model has only shifted more.


Two students who receive services from the Counseling Center were interviewed by The Torch. One who requested anonymity lives in Illinois and was impacted by a licensing law that forbids therapy to be facilitated over state lines. 


She received thorough, timely communication from the Counseling Center about their plans for treatment during the transition to online learning. The student’s therapist was not furloughed, but experienced issues with getting access to other services. 


The student said, “Recently, I had to be in contact with the SAAFE Office, and I couldn’t talk to anyone in the SAAFE Office because Paula, who’s in charge of it, was furloughed. So that was moved to the Director of the Counseling Center.” 


She feels supported by the Counseling Center and said they have made it clear multiple times that their services are accessible if she needs them. 


Jennifer Perkne receives services from the Counseling Center, but her main support comes from pastoral staff at the Chapel. Her sessions with the Counseling Center stopped on May 1 when students not enrolled in summer courses typically end their treatment for the academic year. 


Even though she had access to services, it was difficult to benefit from them at the same level as on-campus interactions. “It’s weird to be in a different space and talk about different problems. Especially with the global pandemic, there’s also that stress.”


Perkne still felt supported despite the circumstances. 


“I realize they’re doing the best they can without face-to-face counseling. You don’t really sign up for counseling to be over the phone. You sign up because you want to see anybody,” she said. 


Amber Mosley, Assistant Director and Clinical Services Administrator for the Counseling Center, has been working with the university’s support service channels to assist students during this time. She is not a furloughed employee. 


Several staff members at the Counseling Center were furloughed, but they were given an extension past other departments. This gave clinical staff the opportunity to work with students they had, making sure they were able to end those relationships in a healthy manner and connect them to other resources. 


“When they furloughed us, they didn’t furlough us immediately. They provided us the opportunity to do the best for our clients toward the end of the term,” Mosley said. 


The role of counselors shifted to consultants in order to connect students to local, specific resources.


The Counseling Center is not closed. It is operating throughout the summer session with the same eligibility requirement previous to COVID-19. As long as students are enrolled in at least 1 credit hour this summer they are able to work with the Counseling Center. 


Mosley is aware students are not going to be able to be on campus and will be doing remote instruction. They have begun changing their model of interacting with students to adapt to several laws preventing therapy across state lines. 


“It’s really important for us that we’re providing support and access to all students, regardless of where they live, in the interest of social justice and caring for the Valpo community at large, regardless of where they’re located,” Mosley said.


There is still a range of direct and indirect services. They provide phone and video consultations to students. 


“Regardless of a student’s enrollment, if they contact us and are struggling and trying to figure out how to connect with a provider, we will still send them information about how to do that process,” Mosley said. 


There is a video on their YouTube channel navigating a psychologist search engine to help students find local psychologists that will fit their needs. 


TAO Connect Services will always be available to students with their Valpo email address. 


“A lot of decisions we have to make in terms of service eligibility and things like that are mandated by law, ethics codes and licenship awards, so we’re really working to create opportunities, plans and access to information in ways that both make sure we don’t do ethical violations, but also at the same time giving out students all the opportunities we can to be able to support them,” Mosley said. 


They have created a flexible plan that will help all students, no matter their enrollment or residential status.


“If a student’s not enrolled in the summer but are struggling, of course we’re not going to turn them away. We might have one conversation with them about how to use their insurance company to find a community provider or other issues,” she said. 


The Counseling Center sent an email to students with the subject line “Staying Healthy in Uncertain Times”. It provided advice to cope and adapt to changes experienced because of COVID-19. The bottom lists 6 online or call-in resources and advice for connecting with a community provider. 


Mosley confirmed that all resources and advice in the email are still relevant and updated. 


If a student is not enrolled in summer courses but is in a crisis, the best option is to go to the closest mental health hospital system and to work with local police and service providers to do that. 


Additionally, the Chapel sent students an email with the subject line “You will be in our prayers this summer” publicly announcing Deaconess Kristin Lewis and Pastor Jim Wetzstein’s furlough. 


Lewis spoke about COVID-19’s effect on her interaction with students. 


“As of May 15, we are not allowed to have contact with students. There will not be any services available to students until the end of furlough, which is August 1,” she said. 


A student who regularly meets with Lewis had a therapist at the Counseling Center who had been furloughed. The student reached out to her for assistance before May 15. 


“One of the things I discovered was that students who have their health insurance through the university have some coverage for mental health care that’s not the Counseling Center,” said the student. 


They were able to connect the student to a counselor covered by the university’s health insurance plan that continues over the summer. 


“That’s one of mine and Pastor Jim’s fears, is students who normally would’ve been reaching out to us over the summer because they’re not enrolled in a summer class, helping them think through their local clergy or other folk they may be able to find,” Lewis said. 


The pastoral staff encourages students seeking support to reach out to the Health Center. They have the information about what university insurance will cover and what resources they can find in their communities. 


They also recommend religious students to turn to local churches. Most congregational pastors have a resource list of local counselors that may work with students if they do not have access to university insurance. 


Lewis asks Valpo students to ask ourselves: How do you support one another? 


“I think for anyone during this time of social isolation: One, be gentle with yourself. You’re going to be exhausted. You’re experiencing a trauma. Give yourself some grace that you aren’t going to be able to produce in the same way our society has told you is where you find your value. Two, test run what’s helpful. Negotiate and give yourself the ability to approach what is going to help you during this time from an experimental, wonder-space in learning about yourself and what’s helpful, rather than feeling defeated every time something happens that isn’t bringing you to the happy place,” said Lewis. 


The Chapel’s pastoral staff is already working on planning for students in need of more support services in the fall than normal. 


“Pastor Jim and I just want students to know that we deeply care about you. It’s not because we don’t care that we aren’t going to be able to respond. It’s a legality issue. We’re not allowed to be in touch and be doing that kind of work until that furlough’s done,” she said. “Know that when we’re back, we’re back, and you can continue to trust us and rely on us and we’ll walk with you.”


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