Photo, from left to right: associate director Aayla Alexander, director Leigh Norwood, health equity officer Terrence Harper and associate director Daniela Recabarren
Finding the right balance of wellness care as a college student can be daunting. UNC Charlotte’s new Center for Integrated Care (CIC) is trying to make that process easier.
CIC is currently located in the Christine F. Price Center for Counseling and Psychological Services and is accepting appointments by phone or online. Its goal is to work with students to identify the best path for their individual wellness goals and help them find the appropriate support on campus or in the community.
Leigh Norwood, director of the CIC, said to think of it as a “one-stop shop” for student wellness planning, referrals and connection to health and wellbeing resources.
"We do an initial assessment, figure out what you need, then point you to the right resources,” Norwood said. “We’re going to stay in touch with you, follow up to ensure you receive the proper care, troubleshoot any barriers like access to transportation or understanding insurance and encourage you throughout your personal wellness journey.”
Students can make appointments on their own or may be directed to CIC by other departments. Faculty and staff can also refer students who may not be experiencing crises, but would benefit from clinical guidance and direction.
CIC arrives at a critical time as demand for health services continues to grow among Charlotte’s student population, following national trends. It becomes the fifth department in what comprises Charlotte’s Health & Wellbeing unit, joining the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Center for Wellness Promotion (CWP), the Student Health Center (SHC) and University Recreation (UREC).
“We already provide a wide range of high-quality services to meet the overall needs of 30,000 students, but just as with any campus of this size, it can be hard to know where to turn to first, plus there are limits to what we can offer,” said Norwood. “CIC can bridge the gap between services you find on campus and what to do if you need more specialized, advanced or long-term treatment. At that point, off-campus providers in the community are essential partners to campus healthcare and a student’s overall health and wellbeing.”
CIC helps students through the referral process to ensure a successful transition and “continuity of care.” This “integrated” approach — coordinating on-campus and off-campus services with individualized student needs — is critical to meeting the healthcare needs of 30,000 students and is consistent with other universities of Charlotte’s size.
Starting with a Consultation and Wellness Planning
Wellness planning with CIC provides many benefits, specifically for those who want to talk to a health professional, but aren’t sure where to begin. The CIC guides students through campus resources or can assess if a more specialized care in the community can save students a lot of time and energy.
CIC can help answer questions such as:
- Would you be best served by individualized care or group activities?
- Would you benefit from a short series of counseling sessions on campus or do you need longer, more specialized therapy from an off-campus community provider?
- Are there existing student organizations or peer mentoring programs that align with your wellness goals?
- Would you benefit from expertise from other campus departments who specialize in nutrition, exercise, fitness and healthy lifestyles?
- Are you experiencing a condition that suggests a need for a medical evaluation or disability?
- What services might support my health and wellbeing as I transition back to the University after returning from a medical or personal leave of absence or withdrawal?"
An initial consultation with CIC can determine which path best meets the student’s needs and what campus or community resources are best suited to provide the appropriate level of care.
Managing Referrals and Case Management for Continuity of Care
After a consultation, CIC will continue to manage cases from start to finish to support students’ wellness journey. In situations when needs exceed the level of care offered on campus, a community referral may be needed.
CIC helps manage this referral process by making appointments, securing transportation, applying insurance and, in some cases, providing limited financial assistance with copayments or other fees.
Some examples that may require a referral:
- While many students experience significant improvement in mental health management with a single or short series of therapy sessions with CAPS, a community provider can step in to offer more long-term arrangements to continue counseling if a student reaches CAPS’ six-session limit.
- A student who already has an established history with a long-term therapist, but for geographic or personal reasons, wishes to continue that extended level of care by switching to a local Charlotte provider.
- If a situation requires the need for a medical specialist or advanced equipment, test or procedure that is not commonly available in the SHC, a referral may be needed.
In cases like these, a referral would be initiated by CAPS or the SHC, and the case would be transferred to CIC for management of the referral process.
CIC also provides follow-up care to ensure the experience with the community provider meets the student’s needs.
"One of the biggest goals of CIC is to facilitate continuity of care,” Norwood said. “Some students may go to an appointment or try something one time, then not do it again for any number of reasons. But continuity of care means there's follow-through. Sometimes it takes a little extra support to actually continue with services."
That extends to coordination with other campus departments, if needed.
Circumstances like extended hospitalization, occupational or physical therapy sessions, or intensive outpatient programs for drugs, alcohol or eating disorders can cause disruption to class attendance or the completion of academic assignments. CIC can help students coordinate with Student Assistance and Support Services (SASS) and Disability Services for navigating medical absences, course withdrawals or arranging accommodations for disabilities.
Developing Lifelong Wellness Skills and Health Equity
The CIC was built to support all facets of wellbeing for Charlotte’s students, and Norwood is excited for what the center can do for the University as a whole.
One goal is to provide outreach and programming to encourage and provide more access to care for students who may be unsure of how to seek out wellness services, or reluctant to do so.
Another goal is to launch group services later this academic year. Group services are not meant to replace traditional group therapy, but they can help build a supportive community and skills to navigate daily challenges or stressors. Groups are open and typically themed to specific communities, such as support for First-Generation Niners or 49er Transfers, or focused around topics or conditions like meditation or chronic illness.
Partnerships with the School of Social Work bachelor’s and master’s programs help support staff through graduate assistantships and internships while providing practical learning opportunities for future leaders. The CIC is also interested in working with Niner Finances on health budgeting and financial literacy education.
Health equity is an important component of CIC’s mission, working to identify and remove as many potential barriers as possible to eliminate disparities so that all students can reach their full wellness potential.
On the communications side, CIC plans to utilize email and social media to support both students who utilized CIC services and others to offer wellness tips throughout the semester, encourage mindfulness and promote campus resources.
For Norwood, a primary objective of the CIC is to not just get students the care they need, but to maintain that care throughout their time at the University.
“Bringing all these aspects of wellness together here on our campus is pretty significant,” Norwood said. “We hope to be able to set a good standard and framework for UNC Charlotte and for the rest of the UNC system."