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The initiative aims to reduce barriers to accessing mental health resources for both graduates and undergraduates.

Close to 100 students have received direct, in-appointment consultations with Counseling and Psychological Services clinicians as a result of a new pilot program that staffs CPS clinicians in Medical Services’ John Jay health clinic.

The students had initially come in for primary care appointments, but were referred to CPS clinicians by Medical Services providers who thought they could benefit from additional mental health care, as part of Columbia Health’s new Behavioral Health Initiative. Over ninety percent of students referred in the past eight months had never before been referred to CPS.

The initiative aims to reduce barriers to accessing mental health resources for both graduates and undergraduates. CPS—utilized by half of Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science students at least once during their four years on campus—has been criticized in the past for long wait times and a complex, multi-step triage process.

Through BHI, CPS clinicians are staffed in Medical Services during peak visit times for a total of 8 hours a week, meaning that primary care providers can now directly consult with, or refer a student to, a CPS clinician in the middle of an appointment.

Tanvi Hisaria

Since the initiative launched in February, 94 students have been given an in-appointment consultation, a number that Columbia Health administrators see as a sign of success.

“The purpose was to provide medical health services with low barriers to students who may not be utilizing the existing mechanisms for referral to CPS,” Melanie Bernitz, the associate vice president and medical director of Columbia Health, said.

According to Bernitz, BHI was rolled out in response to a similar national trend in public health. Data cited by Columbia Health shows that half of all psychological issues in the United States are first brought to the attention of a medical practitioner, rather than a psychologist.

Bernitz also pointed to the forthcoming launch of a “point of care” survey to collect feedback from patients immediately following an appointment. She said that Medical Services plans to use the data in tandem with this feedback to potentially expand the program and even to inform future staffing decisions at CPS.

“The early results are really promising.” Bernitz said. “We truly believe that this is a successful pilot so far. So really, it will be our job to say, ‘What does this mean?’, ‘How does this model best serve our student population?’, and ‘What do we have to best put in place to make that happen?’”

avery.kim@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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