Mental health services increasingly outsourced at Canadian colleges

Early adopters aim for local partnerships

More Canadian colleges are considering outsourcing their mental health services, but early adopters caution institutions to plan their partnerships carefully.

Institutions like the University of Prince Edward Island—which recently hired an outside company to provide 24-hour counseling to students—are increasingly looking to outsourcing firms as a way to control costs and meet rising demand for mental health services.

Treena Smith, student affairs manager at Prince Edward, notes the outsourced service complements, rather than replaces, the university's existing efforts. "We actually have great services," she says, " but we all go home at five o’clock. We don’t have on-call staff, we’re too small."

Brock University outsourced aspects of its mental health services as early as 2000, but was careful to structure the relationship in a way that worked for the school. Les McCurdy-Myers, Brock’s director of counselling services, says outsourcing involved negotiating for special services, such as record access, and requiring him to help make hiring decisions for new counselors. He added, "I think part of the success of what we’ve done here is we’ve worked with someone local who has helped us tailor this exactly the way we want it and handed over to us a great deal of control."

Myers also noted that outsourcing the services costs "significantly less" than hiring staff directly.

However, some say the increased presence of outsourcing firms in student mental health services is not entirely organic—and that the firms are going directly to student government, rather than approaching administrators. "Never have I heard of the [wellness] proposals being presented to the current counselling centre," says Rice Fuller, senior director of health and wellness at the University of New Brunswick. Fuller now asks the student union to alert him if and when an outsourcing organization approaches them with a pitch (Samson, University Affairs, 11/5).

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