The Macalester Health and Wellness Center now contracts with a telemedicine company, ProtoCall, to provide a mental health hotline for students. The hotline will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
“The idea was to try to extend the support available for students beyond what the Health and Wellness Center could do with regular daily hours. We are aware that most emergencies don’t happen nicely between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday… We liked the option of it being there when we weren’t,” explained Denise Ward, Director of the Health and Wellness Center.
Based in Oregon, ProtoCall is staffed by “counselors who are all graduate-level staffing and are maybe located in Oregon but could be located elsewhere, it’s a matter of time zone,” Ward said.
Initially, Macalester has a contract for 50 calls per month to accommodate students who need to talk to someone immediately.
“It’s not meant to replace in-person appointments,” Ward said. “Obviously if the 51st person calls they won’t say ‘whoops, over the line,’ we will just get billed for additional calls.”
To choose this particular company, the Macalester HWC spoke with colleagues at Grinnell and Carleton about their experiences looking at various hotline providers for students.
“In smaller communities, [Carleton and Grinnell] had an even more dramatic need for [a hotline] because there weren’t even community resources available for their students, ” Ward said.
For Macalester students, however, there are community resources at their disposal. Crisis Connection and Ramsey SOS are two local hotlines frequently used by students.
The local resources are often limited in their understanding of the college campus, whereas that area is a specialty for ProtoCall.
“[ProtoCall has] a nice niche for working with colleges and universities, and so they understand [our] population versus 13- to 15-year-olds or middle-aged people or whatever the case might be,” Ward said. “They know Macalester. We’ve given them protocols, so if a student has this concern or that concern, [the counselors] know our resources.”
“It’s important for students to know that these are confidential calls, they have the same degree of privacy as an in-person visit here in the Health and Wellness Center,” Ward said. “The HWC wants students to feel comfortable speaking to the counselors on the hotline in the same way they would feel comfortable speaking with a Macalester counselor.”
“There will be a record of the call that comes into our staff, it doesn’t go anywhere else. It becomes a part of their counseling record, so it has that level of protection,” Ward said.
ProtoCall “[gives] us a record of that call so that we can know what’s happening with our students as well and [can] be prepared to support them, and if it’s truly an emergency we can put forth some of our crisis management strategies that are here for the college.”
On campus the HWC has begun advertising this service to the professional staff with Residence Life and will help train RAs later. They are also working with faculty so that if a faculty member has an advisee who might benefit from the hotline, it can be another suggested resource.
Ward said she hopes that the hotline will be received as an “appropriate and helpful resource” for students.
To evaluate this, the HWC intends to send a broad survey to the student body, rather than just to students who have used the hotline.
The survey would ask “if students haven’t use it, ‘Why?’ if students have used it ‘How was the experience?’” Ward said.
Another source of evaluation will be how many students actually call the hotline.
“If there’s only four or five students using it per month we will have to determine if it’s worth the cost and if there’s a better way to provide that after-hours support,” Ward said.
“At first we had some skepticism that students would use a phone service […] but, Macalester students are pretty good at using every resource that’s made available to them,” Ward said. “We are excited to see where it goes.”