Bid to outsource CSU Counseling Center sparks strong student opposition

By: Maggie Phillips

The CSU Counseling Center offers a variety of services to students, this could change with potential outsourced mental health services, Photo by: Molly Bregar

Cleveland State University recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking bids for an outside provider of mental health care services at CSU. While the RFP is no longer listed under the webpage it previously appeared, the bid has sparked concern over how students’ mental health needs will be met if the CSU Counseling Center (CSUCC) is outsourced.

Vice President of Administration and Chief of Staff Jeanell Hughes claimed in a recent CSU 2.0 town hall that, “2.0 is not about cutbacks and outsourcing and furloughs.” Despite this statement, the RFP seeks to outsource not only CSUCC but Health & Wellness Services as well.”

The RFP states that “the university’s goal is to use this selection process to establish a partnership for the business operations of managing its existing health and wellness services (including student wellness) and counseling center portfolio.”

The University wishes to find a provider that will improve the management of health, wellness, and counseling services and give students “better health care information and services.”

However, many community members and CSU students feel an outside vendor would not live up to these suggested benefits, providing constituents with worse health care information and services. 

Over 160 students have signed a petition urging the university to keep the current CSUCC, and over 20 of these students have commented on the petition, sharing personal testimonies that show their support for CSUCC and opposition to outsourcing. 

Brianne Markley, a counseling psychology doctorate student and graduate assistant at CSU, emphasized three major reasons outsourcing CSUCC would negatively impact students.

“Outsourcing counseling services would diminish quality of care and access to care, dismantle partnerships between the well-established CSUCC and other campus and community groups, and create additional barriers to care for under-represented students specifically.”

Markley claimed this would create additional barriers to groups of students who already face barriers to mental healthcare, specifically under-represented students, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and first-generation students. In addition, she fears that hiring an outside entity could raise costs of care and could halt existing community services.

“An outside group is not an integrated part of campus culture and therefore could not provide informed care to students.”

Markley continued, “Given that CSUCC services are currently covered in tuition costs, moving to an insurance-driven model will cause problems of affordability and privacy for students.”

In the RFP, financial costs to students and ability to accept patients without insurance is listed as one of the selection criteria for proposal review. While given a “weight” of 15% in proportion to other criteria, it emphasizes that price is not the sole factor in their decision-making process. Therefore, it is unclear whether the administration will select a Proposal that guarantees similar costs and access to care for uninsured individuals.

According to Markley, the CSU administration has made little effort to communicate with the faculty and staff members about the transition, nor have they attempted to listen to the concerns of students.

CSU’s Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Shannon Greybar Milliken confirmed that while no decisions or changes have been made, the university is exploring options to “improve” health services at CSU.

“Cleveland State University is always looking for ways to better serve our students. The university is working on a Request for Proposals to provide mental health services at our counseling center. In Cleveland, we are fortunate to have some of the best health care providers in the world on our doorstep. Our expectation in any partnership is to deliver the highest level of service and care to members of our community.”

The initial deadline for proposals as specified by the RFP was April 7th, 2021. It is unknown when the University will decide or if another RFP will be released.

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