LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 28, 2021) — Earlier this month, University of Kentucky Public Relations Strategist Amy Jones-Timoney sat down with health and well-being specialists Hannah Simms and Corrine Williams, Sc.D., to discuss the university's health and student success resources available to the campus community. They addressed how UK has adapted to meet the needs of students, faculty and staff in response to COVID-19 pandemic.
Simms is the executive director of UK Health Corps, a centralized team of contact tracers, wellness connectors and academic coordinators who provide individualized services and support to the UK community.
Williams is an associate professor in the College of Public Health and the acting associate vice president for student well-being within the Office for Student Success. She works to support students with several resources across campus such as the Counseling Center, the Disability Resource Center, Financial Wellness and the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center.
Below are some of the highlights from the discussion. Click on the video player above to watch the full conversation.
How have the Office for Student Success and services related to well-being grown in the past year and a half in response to COVID-19?
Williams: Like everyone else, we moved a lot of stuff virtually to help make sure students could still reach out to services they needed and so that they could access individuals who they needed to talk to. Before COVID-19, we had been working on increasing some of our key services.
For example, we added two additional consultants in the Disability Resource Center. One of the things that is sort of an unintended consequence of some of the mental health challenges people have been experiencing during this pandemic is that more students now need accommodations for various mental health challenges, and that affects our Disability Resource Center. We've seen growth in that area.
Tell me more about what Health Corps does and the kind of services it provides to both students and employees.
Simms: The main goal of Health Corps is to make sure that our campus community has at their fingertips the resources they need to successfully navigate any COVID-19 situation, whether that be a positive diagnosis, trying to get vaccinated, understanding what resources are available for testing on our campus or more personal things.
Wellness connecting is a big resource that our office puts a lot of time and energy into. We know that students who have to stay home because of a quarantine or an isolation situation are discovering that they have needs that they usually are able to take care of for themselves, but when they're quarantined or isolated — particularly quarantined or isolated on campus and away from home — sometimes those things are more difficult to figure out, like how you're going to get your groceries or your other basic needs. We've even helped students who need a specific calculator to do a certain kind of coursework, for example, when they're quarantined or isolated. Normally they would have gone to get that for themselves, but they couldn't. So really, we do anything that you can think of if you find yourself isolated or quarantined, but I hope you never do. Maybe you have family or friends because you're from here, but for many of our students who have come and moved in residentially, both in our residence halls and around our campus, they find themselves in situations where they might not have that support system to get the other things that they need.
UK Health Corps also does contact tracing, isolation notifications and quarantining. And that's a very important part of our public health response here at the University of Kentucky. But I think what's really unique — and what I hope that Health Corps is bringing to our campus to make navigating this easier for our community — is all of the other opportunities that our wellness connectors, academic support connectors and our contact tracers and our communications team can provide by way of just sort of the other unexpected needs that come up during a quarantine or isolation situation.
What trends have you noticed over the past year and a half in terms of the wellness of our student population? And then what resources are we providing to help navigate those?
Williams: Not surprisingly, I think anyone who's been around any sort of media in the past few months has heard discussions around mental health and the challenges we're all facing. And I think one of the things about this pandemic is that it's really allowing people to be open with their mental health challenges in a way that they weren't before. I think because we've gone through this sort of collective traumatic experience, it's really creating some opportunities for conversations and people being able to admit, “I'm not doing OK.” And I want to always make sure students know it's OK to not be OK. We want you to be OK, and we're here to help you. I think that's one thing we are noticing more people talking and identifying is having anxiety or depression. There's a couple of resources that we offer that I always want to make sure people are aware of, particularly for students.
I'm going to focus on students right now, because in Student Success, that is who we are focused more on. One of the things that I always try to mention is that the Counseling Center does a series called “Let's Talk.” These sessions are offered every afternoon for about two hours each day. They are essentially drop-in appointments with counselors. So, they are either located at a physical location on campus or on Zoom. Students can just log in to the Zoom meeting and they'll be connected, and there's a clinician there who's ready to talk to them. It’s not designed for in-depth counseling, but it really is just “I'm not sure what to do, I have a question,” and we have a mental health clinician there who can answer those questions and can start to direct students to the appropriate resource.
It might be that they do need to come into the Counseling Center and be seen there. But it also might be that, for example, meeting with one of our wellness coaches or one of our integrated success coaches and Student Success would also be a good option for just helping that student with the challenge that they're facing.
What recommendations does UK Health Corps have to help members of our community take charge of their health, especially during COVID-19?
Simms: I would be remiss if I didn't start by saying seek out a vaccination. If you are unvaccinated and you have questions, we have some wonderful health care providers at the University of Kentucky, both in University Health Service and other pharmacy clinicians who would be willing and open to talk to you about your options for vaccination. That would be the very first thing that I would mention to our community to help keep yourself safe and also protect our community as a whole and everyone around you. Vaccinations are our greatest resource right now for making sure that we're keeping our campus safe.
But I think it's really important that everyone understands that there are resources out there to help you beyond the physical effects of COVID-19 and keep you mentally and physically well. If you're in a situation affected by COVID-19, whether you've been exposed or diagnosed with COVID-19, make sure you're looking at your holistic well-being. We want you to treat your symptoms.
We've got University Health Service if you're a student here and you're away from your primary care provider. It’s a really good resource with telehealth appointments and all kinds of opportunities there. The same goes for Employee Health in that same University Health Service system. But don't stop there. Make sure you're taking care of your mind and your overall well-being through the resources Corrine has mentioned.
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