Note: This is the final installment of a two part series on Cook Counseling Center's attempt to earn peer accreditation for the first time in more than a decade.
As Cook Counseling Center seeks accreditation from the International Association of Counseling Services, the effects of the April 16, 2007 campus shootings have altered nearly all of the center’s operations.
Yet despite concerns that have been brought up by lawsuits and investigative reports, it may turn out that changes made to the center in the shootings’ aftermath have improved the center’s chances at accreditation.
Accreditation was a goal of Cook Counseling Center before the shootings, director Chris Flynn said.
“Literally we were looking at it a week before the shootings,” said Flynn. “That process began before the shootings occurred.”
The center had been preparing to send an application to the International Association of Counseling Services in the spring of 2007, but when the shootings occurred on April 16, the process was delayed.
“In an event like 4/16, which was traumatic for so many people across campus, business as usual was secondary, and what we were trying to do was make sure the students who are distressed can get the help they need,” said Rick Ferraro, associate vice president of Student Affairs and head of Schiffert Health Center.
The center finally submitted the application on December 4, 2008.
If the center passes, it would achieve accreditation for the first time since the mid-1990s.
IACS is a nonprofit group that reviews university counseling centers worldwide. The Board of Accreditation is made up of directors from IACS-accredited counseling centers, meaning that the review is a professional peer-review, as opposed to a state or federally based inspection.
“I wanted us to be accredited not because we knew that there was something flawed, but because we wanted Cook Counseling Center to represent the best of the profession,” Flynn said.
The evaluation that IACS performs does not look as intricately into the center’s past, but will focus its scrutiny on Cook’s present state.
“We’re looking at the center as it looks now — that is what is relevant, not what it looked like five years ago or even two years ago,” said Nancy Roncketti, executive director of IACS.
The positive recognition that could come from being accredited is especially important for Cook, which has been subject to intensive outside review in the months and years following the April 16 shootings. Shooter Seung-Hui Cho was a patient at Cook Counseling Center in December 2005, and was once ordered into a mental health hospital by a judge.
After thorough investigations, the Governor’s Panel Report on the shootings concluded, “The Cook Counseling Center and the university’s Care Team failed to provide needed support and services to Cho during a period of late 2005 and early 2006. The system failed for lack of resources, incorrect interpretation of privacy laws, and passivity.”
In addition, families of two of Cho’s victims, Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, filed matching lawsuits for negligence against Cook officials and other Virginia Tech officials. While the lawsuits are ongoing, plaintiffs have dropped charges against several Cook officials, including director Chris Flynn. Currently, only former director Robert Miller is named in the suit.
Cho’s records from the center were found in Miller’s house in July 2009. In the aftermath of the shootings, investigators were told the files had been lost.
In legal statements, Miller said he accidentally removed the files when cleaning out his office at Cook Counseling Center in early 2006. Flynn became director in 2006 after Miller was reassigned.
Cho’s records were among three files found in Miller’s possession, according to Flynn.
“Of the three files, one of them had to be Mr. Cho’s,” said Flynn. “Nobody would have noticed if they had not been Cho’s.”
The Virginia state law regulates the confidentiality of medical files. However, after investigation by the Virginia Tech Police, Montgomery County commonwealth attorney Brad Finch concluded that “Miller does not appear to have acted with criminal intent in removing the files.”
“Clearly we did not want the records to be missing, and I think we did the right thing,” Flynn said.