Walden Behavioral Care, a private hospital that specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, will relocate its Northampton clinic this spring. The new building, located on University Drive in Amherst, will be approximately 70 percent larger than the current building and will be much closer to the bulk of the Five Colleges, just one mile from the University of Massachusetts campus.
The clinic is a well-known name in treating eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, and will be using the extra space to expand group therapy and dining areas. There are also plans to hire an extra staff member to cope with an anticipated growth in student patients that will likely occur with the increased accessibility of the location.
“The move from Northampton, in part, is driven by a desire to be able to bring these new services closer to the college community, to improve access for them,” said Charles Rossignol, assistant vice president of business development at Walden.
“There’s a significant population within the Five College system that not only suffers from eating disorders, but by (Walden) having better proximity to them will improve their likelihood of seeking treatment.”
Rossignol said the new clinic will accommodate several hundred students’ needs per year, an increase from the roughly 200 patients the Northampton location saw last year.
Walden is also considering setting hours that might be more convenient to students with busy schedules. Some options that are being considered are having weekend and evening hours, due to the current schedule most students have because of classes being during the day.
The clinic’s arrival should complement UMass’ existing eating disorder services offered through the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health. CCPH offers resources similar to those at Walden, such as individual and group therapy, access to a nutritionist on campus, and medical evaluations with a physician. However, many students have said that without Walden nearby, they feel CCPH is inadequately equipped to handle the campus’ needs.
Members of Active Minds, a national non-profit organization that works on college campuses to raise awareness for mental health issues and treatment options, have expressed that CCPH’s wait times are too long and that their services are too hard for students to find.
“CCPH is definitely very understaffed,” Kate Leddy, president of Active Minds’ UMass chapter and current assistant editor of the Opinion and Editorial section of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, said. “A lot of people have had issues with calling for help to set up an appointment at CCPH, and they’ll be told to wait a couple weeks, which is really an issue because if people need immediate help, they should be able to receive immediate help.”
According to Leddy, many students, such as herself, who have struggled with mental health issues, like eating disorders, have also had trouble finding the resources at CCPH to get treatments as basic as group therapy sessions.
“There’s certainly enough people out there on this campus that are in need of this (resource) and probably didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “The only way I found the therapy was by searching deep into CCPH’s website. You don’t really see flyers around here or anything saying, ‘Go to CCPH if you need help.’ There’s a big lack of awareness.”
CCPH did not respond to requests for an interview.
“There are way too many people right now that are suffering,” said Leddy. “I think Walden being so close will definitely improve that. It will probably get more people to go seek the treatment that they need.”
Because the issue of awareness has been such a problem for UMass students struggling with mental health, Walden Director of Communications Katie Fitzgerald said they hope to solve that problem with the new clinic by maintaining a presence on social media and a dialogue with the Five Colleges.
“Within Amherst, we have marketing and community relations associates out in the area, passing out flyers to different colleges to let them know that we are a resource that will be available to them,” she said.
Rossignol also expressed a desire to speak directly to students and health services at the University to help raise awareness about the warning signs and dangers of eating disorders, as well as the services that Walden provides to treat them.
“The success of Walden in other geographies where we’ve opened clinics has everything to do with how well we have integrated ourselves into the health care marketplace,” he said. “So that means making sure that the providers who are delivering complementary health care services are aware of us and that, as they encounter students who can use our services, they can make referrals to us.”
A press release stated that Walden will be moving to its new location during the week of May 11.
“We are just really happy to be coming to Amherst,” Fitzgerald said.
Isaac Burke can be reached at [email protected]