Last spring, New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees (BOT) voted to increase the health services fee by $1.46 per credit hour, which would in turn amount to roughly $40,000 per year for the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC). Shortly after, Gov. Rick Scott implied that the legislative budget requests would be at risk if the school followed through and increased the health services fee, leaving the CWC at a loss for funding.
On Thursday, Sept. 3, students at the Towne Meeting voted in favor of a reserve fund request of $20,000 to go toward CWC psychiatry. Because of the funding, psychiatry is now available and free on Friday afternoons for students referred to a psychiatrist by the CWC therapists.
“It’s kind of got a history,” said Dr. Anne Fisher, who has been working with the CWC for 26 years. “Quite a few years ago, we were able to have a psychiatrist here that the health fee paid for. So they came a couple hours a week, and we were able to provide the resources.”
When Dr. Fisher first began, she placed money into reserves, recognizing the CWC would need it someday.
“I would tell the students we need health increases because we’re going to get in trouble someday,” Dr. Fisher continued. “‘Oh but there’s a reserve right now, we’ll worry about that in the future.’ So what kind of happened is […] we just got into a place where the reserve got down.”
Prior to the reserve fund request, psychiatry was not as easily accessible to students, and, at one point, was not available at all due to lack of funding. This meant students who needed psychiatric help had to go off campus and use their medical insurance.
Last year, Dr. Fisher tried to contract Manatee Glens, a not-for-profit organization for mental health and addictions, but they denied the request at the last minute. It was not until Dr. D’Angelo agreed to provide psychiatric services with her insurance that New College had a psychiatrist on campus again.
“Last year, students with insurance could see her, but they could see her here,” Dr. Fisher said. “[Dr. D’Angelo’s] problem was, she said, she only made about 40 percent of her fee because people’s insurance is basically difficult. People have a not great plan because insurance is so expensive, so they have a five or six thousand dollar deductible or a $200 co-pay, and they can’t afford to do it.”
After Gov. Rick Scott shot down the health services fee increase, co-presidents Pellaton and Shelby Statham agreed to bring the issue forward. They met with Dean of Student Affairs Tracy Murray, Vice President John Martin and Dr. to discuss the Board of Governors’ problem with raising student fees.
“Shelby and I originally ran on a platform including searching for ways to provide free psychiatric care for our students through the CWC,” Pellaton said. “The process for making a reserve fund request involves getting approval from the Student Allocations Committee, who, if in favor, approve to send the request to the Towne Meeting for a vote.”
This year, the Towne Meeting intended to vote on the A&S reserve request at the first Towne Meeting. However, the psychiatrist’s contract was not received and reviewed by the Student Allocations Committee (SAC) in time.
“As such, at the first Towne Meeting we voted on whether or not the student body believed this was worth pursuing for transparency,” Pellaton explained. “When they voted in favor of continuing negotiations, Alex Galarce, then SAC Chair, called an emergency SAC meeting to vote on the reserve fund request.”
The SAC approved the reserve fund request causing speakers of the Towne Meeting, third-years McAllister Grant and Evan Solyts-Gilbert, to call an emergency Towne Meeting in order to vote on the request before Sept. 4. Otherwise, the psychiatrist would have walked away from the contract.
“Luckily, the CWC reserve fund request was approved as a non-recurring, one-year $20,000 request to fund psychiatric care through the CWC on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” Pellaton said.
Much like Pellaton, Dr. Fisher was unsure of how the request would be received.
“I thought the way Shelby and Paige were speaking and Sophia Doescher, our CWC [representative], that it was possible that it would,” Dr. Fisher said. “But I have had multiple disappointments with trying to have other things happen over time, so I didn’t know. I was hopeful.”
Pellaton and Statham were passionate about this issue, though having been on the SAC for the past two years, they were worried administration was asking students to pay such a large amount of money for services the administration could not offer.
“Once [Statham and I] and the SAC found out the psychiatric services would be free for students who are seeing a therapist at the CWC, we were more in favor of the motion passing,” Pellaton said. “This is definitely a valuable service, and seeing a psychiatrist can be an exceptional financial hardship for some, so we felt it was something that students should not be asked to go without.”