Students hospitalized for psychological emergencies now can return immediately to residence halls after they’re released, under revised protocols the Department of Resident Life instituted this semester.

Previously, students in these circumstances were required to first meet with a mental health professional at the University Health Center and a residential case manager before regaining access to living quarters. Under the new procedures, students should attend those meetings within two days of returning, said Dennis Passarella-George, associate director of resident life and co-chair of a workgroup that developed the new protocols.

The group also developed new language to communicate with students who are hospitalized for mental health emergencies. It makes it more clear to students that Resident Life staff are aware of their situations, are available around the clock to help, and will provide assistance upon hospital release—although that has always been the case, Passarella-George said.

“The goal is to make sure when the student leaves the hospital, that they and anyone else impacted has a place to go, someone to reach out to if they need our help, and know they can feel safe, comfortable and secure,” he said.

Deborah Grandner, director of resident life, formed the group in late spring to address concerns and feedback from students. The issue received media attention in April following an incidence of a UMD student being unable to return to her room after hospitalization for a mental health-related issue.

The nine-member workgroup, which included several students, counseling and mental health professionals, Resident Life and Student Affairs staff, studied best practices at colleges around the nation and conferred with clinicians, student leaders and others. It delivered recommendations to Grandner in August, and they were instituted at the start of the academic year, he said.

The new protocols designate students’ own residence hall rooms as the preferred first stop after being released from the hospital. “We assist them in that return,” Passarella-George said. “One thing that means is talking with and supporting the student, their roommates and others in the residence hall community.”

Should the situation warrant it, students could also return to a temporary room assignment, or go to their permanent or family residence, he said.

The previous protocols needed revising, said workgroup member Ayesha Amsa ‘21, social media coordinator for Scholars Promoting and Revitalizing Care (SPARC), a student group that focuses on mental health care.

“I started with the idea that I didn’t want a student seeking help to ever be at a place where they might be homeless because they can’t go back to their room, or go to their parents’ home,” she said.

The new protocols, including email language she calls “much more supportive,” are everything Amsa had hoped for. “I remember telling my peers in SPARC this went so much better than I ever thought it would; Resident Life did a really good job with this,” she said.

Passarella-George said he hopes the new protocols encourage people to seek assistance with mental health issues if they need it.

“We applaud students for reaching out for help, and we also recognize and want to support and applaud friends and others who reach out for someone who might need help or be in distress,” he said. “Our staff are here to help them with this.”