Letter to the Editor
I am writing in response to the article published on 11/16/22, “Faculty Union Challenges TimelyMD.” While I was frustrated by the one-sided tone of the article, as well as the unsubstantiated claims, and inaccuracies, within it, most of all I came away from it feeling sad and disheartened as I believe that, ultimately, the article is damaging to our students. The article was published immediately prior to fall break—a time when Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) was closed, and many traumatized, isolated, and struggling students would have benefitted from seeking help from TimelyCare therapists. The article essentially discourages students from seeking such support due to its unfair characterization of TimelyCare. For example, the sub-heading of the article calls it an “online faith based counseling service” while it is nothing of the sort (strangely, acknowledged late in the article, contradicting the earlier claim).
The University contracted with the company “TimelyMD” in order to expand health services on campus during a period of very high need, through special one-time pandemic funding. This funding, incidentally, could not be used to hire additional faculty counselors at CAPS. The CAPS faculty counselors were not replaced or harmed by the contract, instead they gained a partner in caring for, and expanding additional services to, our students. Contract or no contract, on-site counseling at CAPS will be expanding in the years to come.
It bears repeating, TimelyCare is not a faith-based counseling service. With a client base of about 250 colleges and universities, they have a breadth of providers to appeal to and serve the breadth of their population base. Their clinicians represent and reflect the diversity of the student populations served throughout the 38 states where they have contracts.
Counseling is just one of many of the health services TimelyCare offers. They provide same-day and appointment-based medical services, psychiatry, health coaching, and psychoeducational activities too. We wanted our students to have 24/7 access to these services whether they live locally or across the country. We wanted our traveling athletes to have access to all of these services. We wanted our students of color to have access to therapists with similar identities. We wanted all of our students to have “more”—more access, more choice, services over the winter and summer breaks. And, of course, as always, access to CAPS therapists when school is in session.
The argument that we should avoid business with companies that have a presence in one of the 23 travel-ban states is misguided and unrealistic. The CSUs, just like universities everywhere, have many business relationships / contracts across the nation. TimelyMD may have administrative offices in Texas, but the company and its employees are located across the United States. Most of the therapists who work with our students live, and are licensed, in California.
The article implies that students who come to CAPS are automatically referred to TimelyCare. This is not accurate and is oversimplified. The truth is that referrals are commonplace in the health industry and there are some cases where CAPS clinicians do refer to TimelyCare and other resources. October is always our busiest month of the year and historically we have had to refer students to other services at this time of year. Like any mental health facility, we must triage and figure out how to make the best use of all of our resources in order to provide
students with the care they need. Typically, at this time of year, we would be referring many students to off-campus private practitioners where they would need to pay out of pocket or use their insurance, and it can be hard to find someone with an actual opening. Now, with TimelyCare, we are able to also offer students a referral that will have no added expense, where they are guaranteed access, and that will work closely with CAPS to integrate care. With this contract, we doubled the services that students can access.
The idea that this service “puts faculty at a disadvantage” is just not true. The therapists at CAPS have an extra resource at their disposal. Clients in need have access to immediate support in the evenings and weekends when CAPS is closed—this gives the providers at Student Health & Wellbeing Services (SHWS) peace of mind and can be an important part of a treatment plan.
The claim that this “poses a new risk to students engaging with TimelyCare” is unsubstantiated. In fact, the ratings of TimelyCare counseling have been consistently high. For example, the average provider rating is a 4.97 out of 5. If any student has concerns about the care that they have received from TimelyCare clinicians, I encourage them to talk to me or a CAPS clinician to address it. We want to make sure our students are getting high quality and compassionate care whether it is through CAPS, TimelyCare, or an off-campus referral.
The statement that we are “outsourcing responsibility for our students’ wellbeing” is simply unfair. We have not replaced CAPS clinicians with this service, instead, we have supplemented the breadth and depth of services available. Our students of color have a greater diversity of clinicians to choose from; students can seek care in the evenings; and out of state students are not turned away due to licensing regulations. In my view, the campus is taking responsibility for our students’ wellbeing by offering expanded services during a national mental health crisis. Students can get real help—not just a nursing line or a crisis line—24/7—in addition to the substantial services that our medical and counseling teams provide.
As always, we encourage students to be informed participants in their health care, whether with us, TimelyCare, or outside practitioners or agencies. When students are seeking therapy through TimelyCare, I encourage them to look through the clinician bios or call the customer support line to find a therapist that is likely to be a good match. The therapy relationship is an intimate one and the therapist-client match is important.
I sincerely hope that students will take full advantage of all the wellbeing resources available to them. I have dedicated my career to the health of our students and I would hate for anyone to be deterred from being their own advocates and getting the support they deserve. In the future, I hope that Lumberjack reporters will seek comment from SHWS leadership prior to printing an article that addresses mental health resources for students, and that may negatively impact their health and wellbeing. Neither myself nor the Int. Associate Director of CAPS were consulted prior to the article’s publication.
Jennifer Sanford, PhD, Int. Executive Director, Student Health & Wellbeing Services; Director of CAPS
Cal Poly Humboldt