Cost cutting efforts have been a priority for St. Olaf this year. One possibility for saving college money is to outsource Boe House Counseling Center, the college’s primary mental health service, to a third-party organization.
Students fear that Boe House could be closed entirely, but Kari VanDerVeen, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications for Media Relations, said there is no threat to Boe House.
“Boe House is not going to be shut down,” VanDerVeen wrote, specifying that for the time being Boe House’s operations will not change. “Students can and should continue to access services at Boe House as they usually do.”
However, the College is considering other options for on-campus mental health services.
“Allina Health is in talks with St. Olaf about some kinds of collaboration, but discussions are very preliminary and there are no details we can share at this time,” Spokesperson for Allina Health Timothy Burke wrote.
While a future partnership with Allina is possible, the College has not received enough details to determine what the new arrangement could look like.
“We have not had any proposals from any providers, so we don’t know what that health care might look like or whether it would be good for the College,” VanDerVeen wrote. At press time, the College is expected to receieve a proposal from Allina within two weeks.
Regardless, a number of students feel they may be left out of the decision altogether.
“My worry was that if we waited two weeks to see what the proposal was and then fight it and say that ‘no, this is not what students want,’ then by then it is going to be too late,” Greater Than Campaign Chair Sarah Freyermuth ’19 said. Greater Than is a student organization that advocates for mental health and connects students with mental health services on campus.
Although the details are unknown, out-sourcing services could change the future operations of Boe House.
“One of our biggest concerns is that it would be insurance-based,” Greater Than Campaign Community Director Julie Johnson ’19 said. Johnson elaborated that for students without comprehensive insurance, it could become more difficult for them to access services. A record of treatment would also be reflected in shared family insurance, creating a barrier for students who wish to keep their treatment private.
“You can see Boe House right now without your family knowing about it, which is crucial for a lot of people,” Johnson said. “College is one of the most volatile, difficult parts of your life, in which you probably need mental health care more than after.”
If the college were to outsource mental health services to an outside organization that required insurance, it could also mean students would have a copay for services.
“In order for your mental health services to be billable to insurance, you need to have a diagnosis. Right now people can go to Boe House and see them for anything,” Freyermuth said.
There is precedent for outsourcing college services, according to VanDerVeen, who cited the partnership with Bon Appetit for catering and dining services and the partnership with Northfield Hospital and Clinics for Student Health Services.
“It always makes sense to ask whether the things that need to get done at the college should be done by the college or by another entity that has expertise in that area,” VanDerVeen wrote. She is hopeful a deal could improve Boe House.
“There may be an opportunity here to provide better services than we do now for the same, or lower, cost,” VanDerVeen wrote. “If we were to get a compelling proposal, we would certainly want to share it with the users of our health services for comment.”
However, Greater Than advocates expressed doubt.
“This might not be a bad thing if they can handle everything that we are asking, but it’s scary because there is a huge chance that they can’t,” Johnson said.
Moving forward, Greater Than hopes that students will be involved in the decision.
“Maybe nothing will happen, but maybe Boe House will be completely changed, and the thrust of the problem is that students won’t really have a say in what happens,” Freyermuth said.