Counsellor says CNC ‘grossly underestimated’ service use

If the College of New Caledonia's board cuts counselling services as suggested, students may not find the support they need in the community.

CNC counsellor Tammy Skomorowski is submitting a report Friday on the impact of the proposed cuts, one week before the Board of Governors meets.

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The board was to vote on a budget that needs to save $2.8 million, but that vote has been delayed (see CNC BUDGET, page 3).

"It's not over. The board still needs to vote and I don't envy them," said Skomorowski, who is calling for community support. "They need to cut money but I feel we are an essential service and we will be doing a disservice to the entire campus. The resources just aren't in the community."

Other proposed cost savings include suspending certain programs, like dental hygienist and assistant, and closing the daycare.

As far as Skomorowski understands, the college is proposing a "restructuring" - or reduction - to counselling services to one operational staff and possibly part-time hours for a counsellor.

"It's very vague," said Skomorowski in an interview between back-to-back meetings with students. She said that's the norm, but the board won't get a true picture of the number of students accessing counselling from management's report.

"The number that they have generated is grossly underestimated," said Skomorowski, who saw 431 students between January and November last year.

The layoffs will affect the two full-time counsellors in Prince George and the full-time counsellor in Burns Lake. The Quesnel campus has a part-time counsellor who spends half time academic advising and Prince George also has a part-time seasonal counsellor.

Ryan James is the director for the Community Care Centre, which is funded by the University of Northern B.C.

The centre, which has a two to four month wait list for its low-cost counselling service, is not in a position to take on more clients - but if necessary it will do its best, James said.

"If (the proposed CNC budget) passes then I think it adds weight to services that are already weighed down and don't have the capacity to meet the needs that are in our community.

James said universities and colleges have a responsibility to provide adequate mental health services to their students and those at CNC suggesting the community can fill the gap in services are misinformed.

James said funding for his centre is also at risk.

"I don't think people really understand the scope of what's happening with our mental health services here in P.G. with CNC and possibly us and others," said James, despite the fact his centre has helped about 1,200 in the past six years.

"I don't know what it is, it's just like everything's imploding. I think it's all cost saving ventures that they don't realize what's happening on the ground for mental health."

Northern Health, meanwhile, works with a variety of community groups like churches, First Nations, and post-secondary services and would refer patients in many cases, said spokesman Jonathon Dyck.

Northern Health has a number of mental health and addiction community programs and would typically treat higher urgency patients who require more support. Its Community Response Unit offers assessments, short term supportive counselling and crisis intervention.

Dyck could not say if Northern Health's programs were at capacity or if they had wait times by the paper's deadline. He said patients were seen "as soon as possible," and the speed of their treatment depended on urgency of the individual's situation.

Both James and Skomorowski referred to the Community Response Unit as a community option. James noted a patient often has to fit the health authority's mandate for a particular service and Skomorowski said it was her impression that CRU was at or over capacity.

Skomorowski said there's a misconception of the types of support CNC counsellors offer both students and staff.

"We do suicide risk assessment, homicide risk assessment, we debrief students when they've experienced a traumatic event, we support students daily with mental health concerns, we do career testing, we do in class presentations," she said. "If you cut counsellors, I think the college runs huge risk for liability."

She said students already in need will be further marginalized.

"I worry, what is the message then?" she said. "I think it further develops that stigmatism of mental health is not for us to address."

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