By Joe Wyatt
In addition to receiving an affordable, quality education at one of the nation’s Top Five community colleges, students at Amarillo College also benefit from a wealth of impactful resources to help remove barriers to their success – food pantries, free legal aid, mental health counseling, etc.
However, the newest such resource may have the greatest impact of all.
Beginning this Fall, AC academic students and their dependents will be the beneficiaries of an all-new virtual healthcare plan – TimelyCare – for free. The teleservice, accessible to students while they are enrolled in classes, provides basic physical and mental healthcare, 24 hours a day.
Through TimelyCare, on their phone or other device, AC students can now select from a wide-ranging menu of virtual care options from licensed physicians and counselors in all 50 states – at no cost and without the hassle of traditional insurance – including:
On-demand medical care
Appointment-based medical care
On-demand mental health support (TalkNow)
Appointment-based mental health counseling
Basic Needs assistance
Digital self-care content
Participants can access the free service around the clock – from wherever they are – and they will also receive cost-saving discount prescription cards.
The AC Board of Regents unanimously approved entering into an agreement with Timely Telehealth LLC to provide students and their dependents with basic telemedicine and behavioral-health services for the next three years at an annual cost of $300,000. Funding for the initiative is provided through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund established by the CARES Act.
This coverage, which does not require co-pays, will be automatically extended at no cost to students who are enrolled in Level I or Level II certificate programs or an associate degree program at AC. Students in dual credit or continuing education classes will not be eligible.
“This really fits our mission as a College and our culture of caring,” Denese Skinner, vice president of student affairs, said. “A great many of our students do not have healthcare benefits, a reality that often impedes their academic pursuits. When their basic healthcare needs go unfulfilled it puts them at risk of underachieving or even dropping out.
“We believe the addition of free basic telemedicine is a win-win deal, a critical element of support that will greatly impact both student success and retention.”
It very well might impact overall enrollment at the College, too. According to Skinner, many potential students without insurance weigh the costs of their family’s health concerns against the cost of attending College and choose not to enroll. However, with the addition of free telehealth services, the question veers to whether they can afford to pass up an opportunity to acquire free healthcare benefits that are now part of the overall AC enrollment package.
“A lack of basic healthcare is a barrier to student success, certainly,” Skinner said, “but it is also a barrier to enrolling in the first place. We want the community we serve to know that AC is here not only to help people pursue a career pathway, but to meet as many of our students’ needs as we possibly can.
“AC already has a huge support system for those we serve, but this telemedicine component definitely fills a significant void. It is a critical element of support we thankfully lack no more.”
The need for 24/7 access to high-quality care has never been more important. According to the American Council on Education, student mental health is the top concern of college and university presidents. It’s also the number one reason students leave college. A recent report by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation found that three out of four students who considered stopping out cited emotional stress as their reason.
TimelyCare is not intended to treat chronic illness. Rather, it is designed to address more than 120 basic health conditions –from flu-like symptoms, pink eye and respiratory issues, to panic disorders and relationship issues.
Skinner and Jerrod Hinders, coordinator of AC’s Counseling Center, led a committee that researched and assessed several telehealth vendors before recommending TimelyCare to the Regents. For Hinders, TimelyCare’s 24-hour, 365-day mental health and psychiatry services have particular appeal.
Hinders points out that AC’s Counseling Center has long since reached its capacity, which is the ability to serve 350 students annually. However, current need for mental health services at the College is more than twice that, he said.
“We’ve been operating at capacity for a great while now,” Hinders said. “TimelyCare’s around-the-clock mental services will be an enormous benefit because it empowers us to finally meet 100 percent of need, even on nights and weekends, which has been a barrier to receiving services for many.
“Of course, the entire package will be invaluable for our students,” he said. “When students have to dedicate time and effort to taking a child to the doctor, they miss class time and may be faced with a co-pay. They won’t be charged a co-pay with TimelyCare, and they won’t have to miss class time. I think it’s a game-changer.”
Hinders additionally points out that students are able to receive TimelyCare in the language of their choice, even if they are out of state at the time. The prescription savings card is a big perk, too, he said.
CARES Act funds will cover the costs of TimelyCare over the first three years. If data at that point indicates that the telehealth service has significantly impacted retention – if it essentially pays for itself through student persistence – the College would then consider funding the service on its own.