HACC

HACC's Lancaster campus.

THE ISSUE

HACC, Pennsylvania’s largest community college system, “has eliminated all on-campus mental health counseling for its students ... a move college health experts called short-sighted and risky at a time of growing need,” Spotlight PA’s Aneri Pattani reported for an article that also appeared in the Oct. 18 LNP. Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Its partners include LNP and The Caucus, an LNP Media Group watchdog publication, as well as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, PennLive/Harrisburg Patriot-News and PA Post. HACC has campuses in Lancaster, Harrisburg, York, Lebanon and Gettysburg.

We understand that these are challenging times for HACC. Pattani reports that it is dealing with tumbling enrollment (from about 20,000 in 2014 to 17,400 today) and a growing budget deficit, which currently stands at $2.7 million.

But these are challenging times for college students, too. If HACC wants to reposition itself to both meet the needs of future students and be financially sound, doesn’t it make sense to portray itself as an institution that takes care of its students? Robust mental health services can be part of a strong pitch to prospective students.

College can be a big life step for our young adults. Many students — especially at community colleges — are also juggling jobs, families, and/or caring for older relatives. It can be a time of high stress and vulnerability.

So we believe it makes sense to make mental health counseling available. Most community colleges in the United States do.

And yet Pattani reports that HACC counselors were verbally notified Sept. 11 of the decision to stop individual and group counseling as of the middle of that month. “Instead, students with mental health needs will be sent to a dean of student affairs who will refer them to an off-campus provider,” Pattani reported.

We find that regrettable.

HACC President John Sygielski told Pattani that the change is part of a larger reorganization across the college system and that counselors will continue to assist students with academic goal-setting, career planning, and connections to community resources for food, shelter and transportation.

The LNP Editorial Board applauded Sygielski earlier this year for his op-ed that shined a light on the issue of food insecurity on college campuses. It’s a very real problem for students.

But so is mental health.

In fact, there’s a good argument that colleges should be bolstering their services in that area, not eliminating them.

Pattani notes that a 2016 study found about 50% of community college students reported having a mental health issue — a higher percentage than that for students at four-year colleges.

Sending students off campus for counseling can be an unnecessary obstacle to getting help. Many students don’t follow through on such referrals, said Laura Horne, chief program officer for Active Minds, a national nonprofit focused on college mental health. Time, transportation and money can all be hurdles.

“It’s so short-sighted to cut services,” Horne told Pattani. “If students don’t get the help they need, they’ll be less likely to stay with the college or graduate.”

“Students will suffer in silence, and their mental health concerns could worsen to a crisis point,” added Annelle Primm, a licensed psychiatrist and senior medical director of The Steve Fund, a nonprofit focused on mental health for college students of color.

On-campus mental health counseling is right for both students and colleges. It is indeed “short-sighted” to stop offering counseling when providing such services can help with recruitment and retention of students.

Sygielski told Spotlight PA that HACC is in talks with a third party to provide clinical services at low or no cost, including virtual counseling options.

We’d rather seem him reconsider HACC’s regrettable decision to end on-campus mental health counseling.

Take back unused medications

Saturday is the second of 2019’s two National Prescription Drug Take Back Days.

It’s an ideal weekend opportunity to get unneeded and expired prescription drugs out of home cabinets and drawers — because those are among the drugs that are most likely to be involved in cases of addiction and overdose.

As we noted somberly in the spring, there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Pennsylvania had the third-highest age-adjusted overdose death rate in the nation.

“The last (Take Back Day), in April, collected 468.7 tons of drugs — 39,440 pounds in Pennsylvania — and all the take-back events to date have brought in a total of 5,908.2 tons of drugs to be disposed of safely,” LNP’s Heather Stauffer reported on LancasterOnline Oct. 19.

The following Lancaster County locations will accept prescription drugs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, in partnership with local police departments:

— Royer Pharmacy locations at 335 W. Main St., Leola; 113 S. Seventh St., Akron; 2 E. Main St., Ephrata; and 1021 Sharp Ave., Ephrata.

— Giant Food Store, 1278 S. Market St., Elizabethtown.

— Wegmans, 2000 Crossing Blvd., Lancaster.

It’s crucial that we keep our prescription medications in safe locations and, when finished with them, dispose of them properly. National Prescription Drug Take Back Days let us do that more easily.

Stauffer also notes that Pennsylvania has a permanent drug take-back program with 30 participating locations in Lancaster County; some are pharmacies and others are police departments that have the boxes in their lobby areas. Details are available at bit.ly/LancPillDropoff.

We should take advantage of these programs and regularly check our medicine cabinets for drugs that are no longer needed. It’s necessary diligence that could result in saving a life.