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Massage chairs, oxygen bar: rejuvenation at college

What do local college students want these days? To take charge of their health, area health officials said.

The Health and Wellness Services Department at SUNY College of Technology at Alfred has created a Journey to Wellness program to help students and faculty maintain balance to live productive lives.

“The main reason why it was started is to provide those students that don’t have time or the desire to participate in individual therapy to utilize services in a more innovative way,” said Erica Alger, mental health counselor and adjunct instructor for Alfred State. “We originally created it because we were trying to come up with neat ways to get them interested in wellness and health.”

The program was incorporated in 2012 and started with a MindSpa—a relaxation room that includes aromatherapy, biofeedback training, guided meditation and massage chairs among other amenities.

“These students are involved in so many different things. Their day begins early in the morning and doesn’t end until the wee hours of the next morning,” Alger said. “So (we are) teaching them the importance of taking a break and how it can assist them in being more successful academically and teaching them ways to cope with stressors.”

Last year the department created the Oasis—a lounge that hosts weekly events and a place where the school’s counseling office is based. An oxygen bar was added to the department in 2015 to help students increase concentration and decrease stress during finals week.

Other services that were added due to the program’s success include a self-care station, acupuncture, evening counseling hours, fitness classes and massage therapy.

The program is funded by the students. It is modeled to fit psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the tenets of mindfulness, officials said.

“This program has been successful because it makes health and wellness fun,” said Heather Fumia, a student who uses the program and is president of the college’s Health and Wellness Club. “Many people have a distorted perception about being healthy. They think that it is something unpleasant and requires a lot of work. The Oasis has many options for students that help them enjoy a healthy lifestyle.”

Students have responded in droves. In 2013-14 the department had 191 appointments; in the next school year, the appointments grew to 425. Since last October, students have made 498 appointments.

“I think the Oasis program will be long-lasting and successful because it has already done so well and it has only been around since the fall 2015 semester,” Fumia said. “I think as more students get involved and realize how important and fun it is to be healthy, the program will grow.

“Unfortunately, colleges aren’t known to be the healthiest places in the world, but programs like the Oasis can help change that,” she added.

Given the positive response, the Health and Wellness Services team is currently focused on collecting and retaining data. The severity and number of mental illness appointments at the college have increased—in 2014-15 the college provided services for 1,764 appointments.

The fact that new generations are taking their health seriously is exciting, Alger said.

It’s gratifying “just to be able to walk in and see the number of students that are excited about what we have to offer, and they’re very grateful,” she said. “They’re excited when they hear about it, and they’re excited every time they use it, so it’s pretty rewarding.”

3/18/2016 (c) 2016 Health Care Achievement Awards Special Section. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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