The expansion of both staff and student demand is cornering Counseling and Psychological Services into a tight spot. According to CAPS officials, the department may not have the office space to accommodate the five full-time therapists promised by Penn President Amy Gutmann on Nov. 20 after the Campus Conversation.
These spacing issues have been ongoing since January 2015, when CAPS moved to its current location at 3624 Market St. from 36th and Walnut, the location of the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics set to open this May.
Although the move gave CAPS 25 percent more total square footage, the lack of space became a problem again in September 2017 when CAPS hired four new therapists to serve the office and four of Penn’s graduate schools. Director of Outreach and Prevention Services Meeta Kumar said CAPS currently cannot keep up with the rapid expansion of its staff.
“We are pretty maxed out, and the administration is aware of that,” Kumar said.
“When we finished hiring the four new positions, we all were aware that we’re getting pretty much to capacity here,” she said. “Having a larger staff just comes with a whole host of logistical and administrative issues.”
Some of the staff currently have to share offices. Trainees and part-time staff who work on Mondays, including five psychology externs and five social work trainees, occupy the offices that full-time members use when they work Tuesday through Saturday, according to Kumar.
CAPS and Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett are currently searching for potential spaces on campus that could serve as new offices. CAPS Executive Director Bill Alexander said he hopes to resolve the issue by the end of this semester. Currently, CAPS has a 15-year lease on the 3624 Market St. location.
“It’s very crowded and there’s not much free space on Penn’s campus, but they’re looking,” Alexander added.
Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email that “the University is aware of the space issue and is working to resolve it.”
Philadelphia’s urban environment, where “space is a really valued commodity,” makes it even harder for CAPS to find locations, Kumar said. Another problem is finding a “therapeutic environment.”
“It needs to be easily accessible, but have some amount of privacy and confidentiality,” Kumar said.
Although the University has increased CAPS funding by around $860,000 between the fiscal years 2014 and 2016, student demand has increased just as rapidly.
Penn Benjamins Director Phil Isom, who said he meets with Alexander about three times a semester, said the addition of staff is urgently necessary and that problems such as wait times still persist.
"It sounds like part of a bigger problem of them being underfunded and under-sourced,” Isom said of the CAPS spacial issues. “I know that [Alexander] is juggling a hundred things. He’s always understaffed, he’s always overbooked, I know he’s working really hard and it’s a struggle. This story isn’t surprising.”
Isom said that the “institutional bureaucracy” is a reason why change at Penn can take a long time.
“To get something up to Amy Gutmann or the Board is very far removed from CAPS," Isom said. "That’s why even though someone high up said 'this is a top priority and this is what we’re doing,' it takes a long time to get down to where it’s actually in CAPS getting the money and doing the things.”
Still, CAPS administrators do not expect to move to a new location anytime soon, Kumar said. Penn Wellness co-chair Serena Vargulick said that a possibility could be satellite CAPS offices in buildings on campus, which would make the service more accessible for students.
“We realize that there’s a lot of different needs the University has that they’re trying to manage and accommodate,” Kumar said of the Penn administration. "I don’t know what the different priorities are they must be managing.”