As Yale University Health Services is forced to cut costs, Elis facing the realities of a struggling economy and a bleak job market are turning increasingly to YUHS counseling services. Staff reporter Florence Dethy investigates.

The very economic downturn that is driving Elis to enlist themselves in counseling services is forcing Yale University Health Services to cut costs.

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Over the past year, YUHS has seen demand increase for both its clinical and its mental health services while having to cut costs in personnel and non-personnel expenditures by 7.5 percent — just like every other department at the University — YUHS Director Paul Genecin said. The trend, which has been observed at Princeton, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, can in part be explained by increased student anxiety fueled by the economic decline and the tight job market, he said.

Although YUHS will not have the exact statistic for how much demand has increased until the end of the school year, Genecin estimated that about 20 percent of the undergraduate student body used YUHS’ mental health and counseling services this school year, an increase of a couple of percentage points over last year.

“The increases in demand for our services have been in line with increases seen at peer institutions,” Genecin said.

The increase in the total percent of the undergraduate student body using YUHS’ counseling services — a figure that has been rising steadily over the past few years — is reflective of a long-term trend that suggests more students on college campuses are accessing mental health resources every year, Genecin said. This year, the added stresses of a economic slump likely led even more students to seek these services.

Still, in the face of increasing demand and intensified pressure to cut costs, YUHS is maintaining its commitment to quality health care. YUHS has been taking what Genecin called a “multi-pronged” approach to cost cutting. On the one hand, it has been undertaking fairly standard cuts in administrative and personnel expenses. All together, YUHS is eliminating about 20 staff positions, Genecin said. While he anticipates that there will have to be “a couple of layoffs,” most of the personnel cuts are coming from leaving open positions unfilled, he said.

Of the dozen YUHS employees interviewed, all said they had not heard of any layoffs, but believed they could be coming.

“They haven’t laid any one off — not yet,” said one YUHS employee, who asked that her name be withheld because YUHS employees are not allowed to speak with the press.

YUHS has also been actively negotiating with its vendors, such as Yale-New Haven Hospital, to decrease the amount it pays for various tests and services, including blood work and X-ray tests, Genecin said.

Budgeting at YUHS is particularly tricky because YUHS serves two major functions, he explained: On the one hand, it acts as a multi-specialty clinic for those enrolled in the basic Yale Health Plan; on the other, it is the primary insurer for those enrolled in YUHS’ Hospitalization/Specialty plan. (About 40 percent of Yale undergraduates are enrolled in the Hospitalization/Specialty Plan, Genecin said.)

Genecin said about half of YUHS’ operating budget goes toward the hospital and medical expenses of those insured by YUHS.

But, on the other hand, many of YUHS’ costs, such as personnel and facilities costs, are fixed. YUHS has neither had to hire more staff nor make more facilities available due to changes in demand. As a result, there has not been a major influence on budgeting decisions, Genecin said.

The bottom line: the increase in demand for services has not exceeded YUHS’ capacity to provide those services to students, he said.

“YUHS is not reducing any clinical services for our students,” Genecin said. “We have not experienced an increase in demand that exceeds our capacity to provide these services.”

Elis interviewed were surprised that an estimated 20 percent of their peers utilize mental health services.

“People don’t really talk about it,” said Naomi Grunditz ’11, who has used YUHS’ counseling services. “I think there’s a pretty accepting culture at Yale, but I still wouldn’t have thought it would be that high.”

Nonetheless, for female Yalies, there may be a bright spot amidst the sea of disheartening economic news. The 1,853-page stimulus bill passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on Feb. 13 included incentives for drug manufacturers to make oral contraceptive pills available to universities at discounted prices.

Although Genecin said he does not yet know what pills will be discounted or by how much, when it does — which will probably be in the next three months — YUHS will pass along the savings to students.