Penn’s Counseling and Psychological Services has faced criticism in the past for its long wait times before students can see a clinician. This semester, however, CAPS reported it has reduced its average wait time to six days — a significant improvement since fall 2017.
Between July 1 and Dec. 31 in 2017, the average wait time to book an initial appointment with a CAPS clinician was about 12 days. The reduction in wait time is in part because of a more streamlined process of accessing CAPS, which was an effort CAPS made last summer, CAPS Deputy Director Meeta Kumar said.
CAPS also saw a total of 2,000 students between July 1 and Dec. 31 in 2018– a 23 percent increase in the number of initial appointments made in fall 2017. An initial appointment typically consists of an hour-long first session with a clinician, with the opportunity to do a full assessment and develop a care plan, Kumar said.
"The utilization numbers have been increasing every year, and there's been an annual two percent increase in utilization rate," Kumar said. "We worked hard to streamline how people access initial appointments, and these are small but significant process changes."
The improvement in available resources and student use of CAPS services comes after several procedural changes that CAPS made last summer to “make it easier, and less stressful, for students to access clinical support 24/7,” Kumar wrote in a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column last fall.
Since last fall, students are able to schedule appointments with the front desk at the CAPS Market Street location, as well as speak to a clinician at any time of the day by phone.
CAPS has previously received backlash from students for its lack of efficiency and resources. The mental health task force report published in February 2015 called on CAPS to address the issue of long wait times for those seeking help. In February 2018, Phil Isom, former director of peer counseling support group Penn Benjamins, said the issue with increasing student demand needed to be solved with the addition of staff.
Co-Director of Penn Benjamins and College junior Melissa Song said earlier this month she met with Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé to discuss the reduced wait times.
"I think generally within the Penn community, CAPS has had a pretty difficult time managing its perception among students, and there wasn't a high awareness that the wait times had decreased," Song said.
She added that she believes Penn is gradually improving wellness on campus.
"I wouldn't say that I'm worried about putting more pressure on the administration to do better," Song said. "From my communication with Dr. Dubé, they're happy with how the numbers [in wait time] have changed, but they're still trying to get better at it and do more."