Lauderdale seeks to fill empty staff positions as student visits overwhelm counseling services

Students wait to be seen for an appointment at Lauderdale Health Center (pictured above) located on North campus. Two counselor positions remain open as wait list for students seeking mental health services grows and current staff attempt to make accommodations. Lauderdale is also looking for a new director after the departure of Erin Halligan-Avery (Udeshi Seneviratne/Photo editor).

Students have experienced difficulties in receiving counseling following the departures of one of the triage counselors early this year, as well as another health counselor, according to Interim Principal of Student Health Administrator Dr. Steven Radi. 

The college plans to replace the counselors and former Administrative Director of Student Health and Counseling Erin Halligan-Avery. 

“We surely have had some concerns,” Radi said. “We’re trying to adjust them as quickly as possible …. we have a very stable staff here [so it’s] very unusual for us to lose two counselors who’ve been here for less than two years.” 

The counselors’ unexpected departures have overwhelmed the remaining staff and made it more difficult to accommodate students, according to Radi. 

“It’s been a problem for the first five weeks of the semester,” Radi said. “We have a waiting list to get students into counseling.” 

Consequently, counselors have had to make adjustments in their schedules to make room for more students, according to Radi. 

“It’s very hard sometimes when someone needs to get an appointment to put them off,” Radi said. “We are triaging those students who can wait a little bit longer and who need to be seen today. Attempting to get those folks in very quickly [is a challenge].”

The counselors’ decision to leave fits with the general trends for availability of mental health resources in rural areas, according to Vice President of Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio. 

“In this particular case, the college is interested in finding a licensed psychiatrist,” Bonfiglio said. “In many rural communities, it is hard to find licensed professionals … to the best of my knowledge, there is not one licensed, practicing psychiatrist in Livingston County.”       

Radi emphasized how mental health has become a priority for the college over recent years. 

“Mental health issues on this campus have really gotten the attention of this president and this administration in the past couple of years,” Radi said. “We all agree that we could even use more [counselors] than we have when we’re at full strength ... because we do have significant needs in our student population.”

Halligan-Avery left Geneseo in 2017 and the college is in the process of finding a replacement for her, according to Bonfiglio. The college hopes that they will have a permanent administrative director by the beginning of the 2019 calendar year, Bonfiglio said. 

Bonfiglio emphasized that the college has tried to manage the vacancies to provide coverage for students’ mental health. 

“I can certainly empathize with students with the short-staffing, but there’s no shortcut,” Bonfiglio said. “Geneseo itself is in the throes of a national crisis concerning the lack of access to healthcare in rural areas and the demand for healthcare among college students—it’s a bigger issue than Geneseo. Is that supposed to make us feel good? No. Does that mean we’re throwing up our hands and doing nothing? No.”