Section: News

On the Record: Chris Smith

On the Record: Chris Smith

Beginning this year, the Health and Counseling services have been combined to be one center, which is now overseen by one director. What have you been doing to help promote the new one-center philosophy on campus?

I am a public health guy and traditionally, public health, counseling and health focus on evidence-based models, or evidence-based best practices. In my first few months here, I tried to find the best evidence-based model that we could use in this center that allowed us to stay true to who we are but also give us an opportunity to grow and improve. That model came from the federal government, an agency called the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). They have something called a “patient-centered medical home.” What we are going to create here is a student-centered medical home. The five elements that make up a student-centered medical home are, number one, it is student-centered; two, it is accessible; three, it is comprehensive; four, it is coordinated — so there is coordination for care for things we cannot do; five, there is a commitment to quality. So by having those five elements, it allows us to truly put that measurement up against what we currently do and figure out a plan on how to go forward.

Two problems that are associated with the Health and Counseling Center include the fact that there are not enough counselors and that the Center  is not open on the weekends. Are there any efforts underway to relieve the heavy workloads that counselors take on?

I have heard that, but from our data, that is not actually a problem. We have a staff of six, and using our current scheduling models, we can usually get students in generally around one week, but at the very latest two weeks. One of our scheduling models that we started this semester — we use what we call an intake hour, so amongst our six staff, we have a rotating hour of availability where a student who is in crisis can be seen by one of our staff on any given day. For us, we feel like that is helping us to meet the need. The fact is mental health issues are growing exponentially on college campuses, so as many staff as we throw at it, we will have just as many students to fill that. So if we add two more staff, three more staff, four more staff, guaranteed, they would be booked through as well and we would probably still be within that hour time frame.

When it comes to the after-hours care, that is another issue that I was brought into when I first started here. Once again, we are not a level-one trauma center. For us, to ensure that we protect our staff and give the best service, our motto and model are that we operate Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 5. That being said, we do have things like ProtoCall which is operated through Campus Safety to give after-hours and weekend support to students who are in mental health crisis. We have counselors and nurse practitioners on call.

In an interview on the Kenyon website from Nov. 8, you said, “I’m of the holistic approach of promoting abstinence, but where there’s not abstinence, educate people to be faithful, to be tested regularly, and also to use condoms consistently and correctly.” What does this exactly entail? How do you hope to bring the ethos of “promoting abstinence” to campus?

The entire quote is one thing; the part that people are referring to is something totally out of context. We support students, and that is myself included, in making whatever choice they have about their health behaviors, about their life values — that is including sex. I have no say on whether students have sex or not. That is not important to me. But for those who choose to have sex and for those who choose not to have sex, we want to make sure that we are promoting health. As a former CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] employee, there is an age-old principle called the ‘ABCs.’  The A is abstinence, that is a choice that people have — to have sex or to not to have sex — and that is the only proven strategy to ensure that STDs are not transmitted. That is not a personal belief, it is just a fact. But then for those who choose to engage in sexual activity, the B comes into play. Be educated, be tested and be monogamous or faithful. The last one is C, condom use, and that is condom use consistently and correctly. For me, I am not about promoting just abstinence; I think that does a disservice to the entire campus community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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