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Same-day service part of $838,000 mental health plan

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Students and MIT Health Plan members seeking mental health services for the first time are now getting a 15 to 20 minute telephone conference the same day with a senior clinician at the Mental Health Service, and clinicians are reserving appointments in their daily schedules for new patients.

The program and a current advertising campaign in campus media are part of an $838,000 plan approved for next year to hire four new clinicians and two new health education staff members, and to increase services and student awareness of the services through a social marketing campaign and new web site.

The changes, implementing recommendations made in the Mental Health Task Force Report five months ago, were made possible by approval of a supplemental mental health budget submitted by MIT Medical and the Office of the Dean for Student Life for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The campus-wide advertising campaign focuses on stress, depression and access to services. Recruitment for the new positions will begin once a new chief of mental health is named, said Dr. William M. Kettyle, Medical Director.

The changes were announced by Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, Kettyle and Dean for Student Life Larry Benedict. A search is currently underway for a campus director of health, who will coordinate campus-wide activities and report to both Kettyle and Benedict. Other team members who will contribute to the mental health team include two health educators and Daniel Trujillo, associate dean for alcohol education and community development.

Chancellor Clay said, "These changes and new programs provide an opportunity to address comprehensively the needs of our students - both those who are facing traditional problems of adjustments and stress, as well as those requiring medical treatment. The teams, including current staff and new hires, will address the challenge presented by the task force."

The same-day telephone conference, designed to reduce waiting times for initial appointments for new patients, began this month.

Kristine Girard, M.D., associate chief of mental health, explained that the new system will provide quicker assessment of patient needs; decreased waiting time for initial appointments for new patients; better matching between patient and clinician; and more efficient scheduling, both for MIT students and for MIT Health Plan members.

Quicker access to mental health appointments was the top-ranked request in a survey of 1,000 MIT undergraduate and graduate students, released as part of the November 2001 Mental Health Task Force Report.

"So far, the new system is running smoothly," Girard said. "New patients have been able to speak with one of three senior clinicians that same day and then schedule an appointment within one week with the most appropriate clinician."

The senior clinicians who are making these calls are psychiatrist Lili Gottfried, M.D.; clinical nurse specialist Marcia Yousik, R.N., C.S.; and social worker James Chansky, LICSW. If the situation is an emergency, the person will be seen right away.

Girard added that while patient requests for a specific clinician will be taken into consideration, urgent needs might require seeing the first available clinician. Girard cautioned that patients who request a specific clinician might not be able to be seen within a week.

The Mental Health Service announced the improved access in a series of advertisements that feature the tag line, "It's smart to reach out." The ads began in early April in the Tech and other campus publications. Other ads focus on stress and depression.

The Mental Health Service also continues to offer:

24-hour emergency on-call services, every day of the year;

Walk-in hours for urgent care Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 4p.m.; and

Regular appointments until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 5 p.m. Friday.

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