By Andrew Terry
The Amarillo College board of regents has approved a contract to provide students and their dependents with telehealth services for both mental and physical health appointments at no cost to the students. This board made this decision at the regular board meeting April 26.
“My goal is for this to start over the summer, but there is a possibility that it might start in the fall,” Jerrod Hinders, AC Counseling Center coordinator, said.
According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, telehealth allows doctors to provide care without an in-person visit and is done primarily online through a computer or mobile device.
“With the intensity and the level of distress our students are under, we need to do something now,” Denese Skinner, vice president of student affairs, said. “The volume of clients is dramatically up and the severity of what they’re coming in with is dramatically up.”
Students will be able to choose a mental health counselor that fits them best by giving them options to filter counselors based on what languages they speak or if they are faith-based, according to Hinders.
“Students can schedule appointments on their time and when they need,” Hinders said. Currently, the Counseling Center is open from 8 A.M. until 5 P.M. Monday through Friday, but telehealth services will be available at all hours and every day of the week which will create a more equitable environment for students who may not be able to come to appointments during the times the Counseling Center is currently open, according to Hinders.
“We had a large demand before COVID but now due to COVID and the stressors that have been put on everyone’s life, the demand is crushing,” Skinner said. In 2021 the AC Counseling Center was able to provide service to 231 students according to Hinders. With the new telehealth program, about 7,500 AC students, as well as their dependents, would be eligible to use the services.
Unlike the current on-campus counseling services, the new telehealth resources would be available to students who live outside of the state and even to international students.
According to Hinders, the physical health aspect of the plan offers services that students could receive from a primary care or urgent care provider. “Common issues that somebody may seek services for are things like colds, infections or high blood pressure,” Hinders said.
If students need more specialized care, they may be referred to a specialist, which is not covered by the AC plan. However, if students are prescribed medicine, they will receive a prescription discount card.
The telehealth services will be provided by TimelyMD and will cost the college $341,570 per year, as well as a $15,000 setup fee, and is funded for the next three years through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act or CARES act provided to the college by the federal government. After the CARES funds for telehealth are exhausted, the college will determine if the program can pay for itself with increased student retention. “If it doesn’t increase retention, then we’ll have to stop doing it,” Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president, said.