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Clay announces steps to improve mental health, other health services

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Chancellor Phillip L. Clay announced a series of actions Tuesday to improve mental health and other health services on campus.

Clay ordered that a draft report just submitted to him by the MIT Mental Health Task Force be published on the internal MIT web immediately.

The report will start "a broad and intense dialogue within MIT on ways to better support the individual growth and well-being of our students and strengthen our campus community more generally." Clay said the discussion period would end Oct. 19, when the task force may wish to add or expand their recommendations. After that, he will make a statement about plans to implement the recommendations. The final report in October will be posted on a web site available to the public, he said.

"The draft includes a number of thoughtful recommendations. They are sensible, and we are implementing some of them without delay," he said.

The actions establish:

  • Evening medical appointments until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, starting Sept. 17, for mental health and internal medicine.
  • A pilot program for a Residence Support Team that "will pair physicians, other health care professionals and experienced counselors with living groups. They will be getting to know the students and this will break down barriers to students seeking help."
  • A new web site starting Sept. 4 that will be a guide to offices and resources for students, faculty and staff.

In addition, Clay said an optional insurance program starting Sept. 1 will cover unlimited outpatient mental health treatment outside of MIT with no co-payments, effectively increasing resources "for the special needs of some students." It will cover hospitalizations for up to 120 days.

He said MIT has also hired four new resident life staff persons "who will be present in residence halls during evening hours and who will be there to provide assistance and advice to students, supplementing the activities of the housemasters and graduate resident tutors."

The actions, taken in conjunction with Medical Director Dr. William Kettyle, Dr. Peter Reich, head of MIT Medical's Mental Health Service, and Dean of Student Life Larry Benedict, were prompted by the work of the students and staff on the Mental Health Task Force and by a simultaneous operations review of the Medical Department and new developments in the Dean's Office.


Expanded evening appointments will begin on campus Monday, Sept. 17. Internal medicine and mental health appointments on campus will be available until 7 p.m. four days a week, Monday through Thursday. The pharmacy and the clinical lab will also stay open until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Six medical specialties will offer appointments until 7 p.m. on specific evenings as follows. Monday -- allergy and dental; Tuesday -- dermatology, eye service, pediatrics and X-ray/mammography; Wednesday -- dental.

The new evening appointments are in addition to current MIT medical services:

  • Walk-in hours in mental health from 2 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • Urgent medical and mental health care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.
  • Regular daytime appointments in more than 25 medical specialties from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at both MIT Medical on campus and MIT Medical/Lexington.

Kettyle, commenting on the evening appointments, said, "We're adding these evening appointments in response to requests from students, staff and the Mental Health Task Force for evening services that don't conflict with class, lab or work schedules. We know that most people in the MIT community have extraordinarily busy schedules, and we are going to make it easier for students and staff to get the care they need, when they need it."

Fourteen of MIT Medical's mental health clinicians will staff the evening appointments, with five offering appointments on a particular evening. In internal medicine, all the internal medicine physicians, two adolescent/young adult medicine physicians, and two nurse practitioners will staff the evening appointments on a rotating basis.

Kettyle added, "We invite students and staff to e-mail suggestions for further improvements to We may be able to adjust this schedule depending on feedback and requests for appointments."


Residence support teams are being set up as a pilot program this fall. This program will assign a multidisciplinary support team to each student residence, including residence halls, fraternities, sororities and independent living groups.

Each residence support team will be available for education, brainstorming and problem-solving for residence staff and the students who live there. Support teams will eventually include mental health clinicians, the Dean's Office of Counseling and Support Services, other MIT Medical clinicians and chaplains. All will work closely with housemasters, graduate resident tutors, residence life associates, MedLINKS and other residence staff to provide support tailored to the needs and culture of each student residence.

The Rev. John Wuestneck, speaking for the Board of Chaplains, said, "I think it's a wonderful idea."


The unlimited outpatient psychotherapy visits -- with no co-payments -- "will result in a major improvement in access," said Kettyle. "It's one additional step toward making mental health services more available to the students of MIT. In addition, we are looking for ways to improve outreach and to make sure we are available when help is needed."

Ellen Offner, MIT Medical's director of finance and health plans, said, "I don't know of any other college or university health insurance plan that has an unlimited outpatient psychotherapy benefit, with no co-payment by the student. This is an extraordinary benefit."

The improved coverage for outpatient individual or group psychotherapy includes services by a licensed Massachusetts Blue Cross/Blue Shield participating psychiatrist, psychologist, independent clinical social worker, mental health counselor or mental health clinical nurse specialist, when referred by MIT Medical's mental health service.

All registered MIT students are eligible to join the Extended Plan, which will cost $768 for an individual membership from Sept. 1, 2001 through Aug. 31, 2002. Last year, 70 percent of MIT students enrolled in the Extended Plan, while the other 30 percent elected to remain on their own or their parents' health insurance.

New state regulations require that student insurance plans offer improved mental health benefits, but only for a limited number of severe conditions; the law ignores the large group of patients with less severe issues. "We're going substantially beyond what the law requires, so that the new benefit will apply to all MIT students who enroll in the Extended Plan," Ms. Offner said.

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