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Eliot Olson / Columbia Daily Spectator

“Health care should not be a matter of what resources you have,” Director of the Furman Counseling Center Mary Commerford said to student concerns.

Updated Nov. 28, 2018 at 10:19 a.m.

Representatives from Barnard’s Primary Care Health Service announced plans to install a vending machine with emergency contraception at Barnard’s Student Government Association meeting on Monday.

The vending machine will dispense emergency contraceptives and other over-the-counter medications at the same cost as students would pay through Primary Care, and will be installed outside Primary Care at the start of next semester. While Plan B can cost around $40 at drugstores, it is free for students at Primary Care with Aetna insurance and otherwise costs $15. Primary Care also offers intrauterine devices and Nexplanon, and has hired a new provider that can supply these contraceptives in their office located in the lower level of Brooks Hall.

Earlier this semester, Columbia installed vending machines with emergency contraception pills, condoms, tampons, and Advil in John Jay Hall and Schapiro Hall as part of a pilot program to increase accessibility to contraception and other basic health products.

Representatives from other Barnard health services, including Furman Counseling Services and Well Woman, were also in attendance and discussed their commitment to improving referral systems and alleviating additional treatment costs.

According to Executive Director of Student Health and Wellness Programs Mary Joan Murphy, who spoke at the meeting, 68 percent of students will have visited Furman, which is located on the first floor of Brooks and provides free counseling services and short-term therapy, by the end of their senior year. In the past, Furman has faced challenges meeting student need due to limited staff bandwidth, as it is currently staffed with only nine full-time clinicians. Furman refers students seeking long-term care to outside clinics, and makes 400 to 600 referrals each year.

Murphy said that while Furman would never turn away a student who is seeking help, it is trying to reduce students’ expectations of having long-term relationships with their therapists.

“We want to make sure students don’t have expectations that they are going to establish a relationship with a counselor and then have to be referred out,” Murphy said. “We want students to develop relationships with therapists over the long-haul.”

Director of the Furman Counseling Center Mary Commerford also assured Furman’s commitment to securing outside care for all students regardless of income level. However, Commerford added that Furman often struggles to find clinics that match the cost and the specific need of students because the majority of providers in New York City do not accept student insurance plans.

“Health care should not be a matter of what resources you have,” Commerford said.

In response to a question from First-Year Class President Grace D’ Haiti, BC ’22, about how Furman combats the academic stressors that affect students mental health, Murphy said that Furman does not have the power to directly influence the academic decision-making of faculty but attempts to support students facing academic stress by partnering with programs like New York state’s Higher Education Opportunity Program and the JED Foundation. Columbia is currently in the middle of a four-year partnership with JED that seeks to reform the University’s mental health policies and improve access to its resources.

“[Furman] has partnered with JED Foundation ... an outside consultant that looks at the college as a whole and how it looks at mental health and substance abuse. We have a college-wide working group outside of just health services to reduce stress and anxiety,” Murphy said. “It cannot just come from health services. We are just reacting all the time, but we need to be proactive.”

In reference to an article by Spectator that exposed the non-transparent fees that Primary Care patients might face, Murphy also promised that Primary Care wants to improve transparency and is currently soliciting student feedback. She reminded students that Primary Care has a fund to help cover unforeseen medical fees that they cannot afford.

“If there are costs you come across like medications you can’t pay for or lab fees, please come and let us know,” Murphy said. | @ColumbiaSpec

SGA Mental Health Primary Care Furman MJ Murphy
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