A CAPS employee speaks with a student.

Stevie Stigler, a licensed professional counselor with UGA Counseling and Psychiatric Services, is one of many health care professionals available to help students.

During a typical academic year, many students rely on UGA’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS). Amid a pandemic, in which students lost important streams of income and connectivity to others, the importance of student well-being only became more apparent. CAPS gives students access to clinically trained professionals who provide therapy, psychiatric services and nutritional counseling.

Over the last six years, the CAPS Financial Assistance Program has relied on grants from the Parents Fund to cover the cost of co-pays for students who cannot afford the service fee and have no other alternatives for care. The funds also cover the cost of psychiatric evaluations, psychiatric follow-up appointments, and eating and substance use disorder assessments.

Each academic year, CAPS typically serves between 150 and 250 students who lack insurance or face financial insecurity. Without support from the Parents Fund, many students could not afford the care they need. By removing financial barriers to treatment, the Parents Fund directly improves student academic success and retention, social functioning, safety and health at UGA.

In the spring of 2020, as student learning moved online and employees began teleworking, CAPS quickly developed a new service delivery approach using a telehealth service to provide individual counseling and psychiatric services remotely to students. Because of the Parents Fund, CAPS ensured continuity of care for the most vulnerable students during a time of great uncertainty.

“Amidst this pandemic, many families have faced significant financial strain, job loss or loss of benefits and we have found that students are even more concerned about finances,” said Jennifer Hester, associate director of outreach and collaboration at CAPS. “I cannot express enough how much we appreciate having this grant as an option for students who might otherwise disengage from much-needed mental health services.”

CAPS also transitioned to virtual collaborative care and integrated care services. Behavioral health care managers on their team provide holistic, patient-centered approaches and offer opportunities for early mental health intervention. This is the first year that Parents Fund support has been used because some health insurance companies do not cover these services.  With the support of the Parents Fund, which is administered by the Parents Leadership Council through its grant program, CAPS has seen amazing student success. Students who were contemplating discontinuing services due to cost were able to make extraordinary progress and meet treatment goals.

Parents Fund support of CAPS services is critical for ensuring students remain healthy during their time at UGA and beyond.

“If it weren’t for the free services at CAPS, I may not have made it to my graduation,” one former student said. “CAPS helped me save my own life.”