Otago uni provides welfare checks for lonely students

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University of Otago Emergency and Business continuity coordinator Andrew Ferguson. PHOTO: ODT FILES

The University of Otago is providing regular wellbeing checks for nearly 2000 students and staff to offer support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

University emergency and business continuity coordinator Andrew Ferguson said the self-isolation and lockdown measures were unprecedented, and it could be difficult for students and staff living alone, or away from home.

“There could potentially be some very vulnerable and anxious students living among us and not all situations will be the same.

“If any Government systems become overloaded, for example, Covid-19 reporting systems, then the University and Student Health can provide a backstop to seek out the right support for those in need.”

The initiative was not aimed at students who have returned to their families and have support, but those who lived near the University’s campuses in Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill, and who may be away from their families and isolated from others.

The service is being provided by the University’s helpdesk provider AskOtago, which set up a dedicated response team providing regular phone calls or emails for almost 2000 students and staff.

AskOtago senior manager Philippa Hoult said they had been surprised at the enthusiastic uptake of the service.

The team was staying in contact with 1506 students by email, 373 by phone and 24 staff by email and phone.

Third-year anthropology student Timothy McRobbie (30) found the wellbeing checks “invaluable”.

Mr McRobbie was living alone in private accommodation in Dunedin while completing his second Bachelor’s degree.

“Having someone communicate with me on a regular basis is really helpful and supportive for me. Some days AskOtago is the only contact I receive from the outside world,” he said.

Throughout his studies he had worked part-time in hospitality but was made redundant a couple of weeks prior to lockdown, directly due to business turndown because of the pandemic.

Ms Hoult said the checks covered general health and wellbeing with a brief to direct students to any services they might need, including escalating serious issues to Student Health.

Problems picked up to date included people with cough and/or fever symptoms thinking they were not serious enough to call a doctor. AskOtago encouraged them to call a health provider and checked in again the same day to find out the outcomes.

Otago Daily Times