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Counseling and Mental Health Service Chief Touts Shorter Wait Times for Mental Health Appointments

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Counseling and Mental Health Service Chief Barbara Lewis said in an interview that wait times have fallen for students seeking mental health care.

“The fact is that you can be seen in CAMHS pretty quickly now,” said Lewis, who spoke to The Crimson last Wednesday alongside Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen.

The change comes after CAMHS hired additional staff focused on mental health and partnered with TimelyCare, a telehealth counseling program. It follows long-standing student complaints about lengthy wait times to schedule a mental health counseling visit through HUHS.

Lewis said CAMHS has met its goal of hiring six access coordinators in the past academic year. The coordinators will conduct initial consultations with students, which can be scheduled through the HUHS portal or over the phone.

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“Our hope for this was that we would shorten the wait time for students to come in, and we’ve been actually quite successful with that so far,” Lewis said.

TimelyCare, which HUHS began partnering with in October 2022, has seen 6,418 telehealth visits from 2,785 students as of the end of September. Initial consultations with access coordinators can be scheduled on the same day, and virtual telehealth appointments have a wait of just two to three days.

Lewis, however, acknowledged that it takes longer to schedule an appointment to see a therapist, with students facing a seven to eight day wait time.

The new access coordinators have conducted nearly 800 initial consultations across just August and September, according to Lewis.

During the interview, Lewis also highlighted the breadth of resources available, including affinity groups, health workshops, unlimited health coaching, guided meditation, and a community support forum.

“We want to make sure that we have, in an ongoing way, availability for students,” Lewis said.

Lewis estimated that CAMHS is currently running at around 70 percent capacity while awaiting new hires, the last of whom will arrive in November.

“Each time we add a new staff person, it opens up time,” Lewis said. “Our hope for this fall was to actually have students really use CAMHS, and then when we started to have a longer wait to get into treatment, then offer TimelyCare.”

Lewis said as HUHS looks to hire new staff, it also hopes to address a perceived lack of diversity among its clinicians. Lewis said the goal for CAMHS is “to get to 65 percent diverse” among its staff.

HUHS currently employs 27 clinicians from African American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latinx, Middle Eastern, and LGBTQ+ backgrounds and 25 white clinicians. Lewis added that HUHS is actively working on other initiatives to address diversity training among staff.

During the interview, Nguyen discussed the University-wide “We’re All Human” campaign, an initiative in partnership with the Dean of Students Office and Harvard’s graduate schools to promote health topics. The campaign developed new mental health training modules that incoming students are required to complete.

“It provides them with a lot of skills that are helpful not only for themselves to address their own mental health concerns, but also to be supportive of their peers,” Nguyen said of the modules, which are available online.

Nguyen also mentioned efforts by HUHS to monitor Covid-19 cases.

While HUHS retired Covid-19 contact tracing in December and dropped its booster requirement in May, Nguyen said it is “keeping an eye on the impact of Covid-19 in our community” by watching wastewater data, and illnesses diagnosed in the urgent care center and in local hospitals.

“Staying on top of prevention, with the new vaccine that is more tailored toward the currently circulating variants of the virus, is a good idea,” Nguyen said.

Students can schedule an appointment for the updated Covid-19 booster vaccine through HUHS or commercial pharmacies.

HUHS is also opening a flu vaccine clinic Oct. 16-20 in Smith Campus Center. Students who have not received the annual flu vaccine will have registration holds applied to their accounts by Oct. 25 ahead of course registration in November for the spring 2024 semester.

—Staff writer Alexander I. Fung can be reached at alexander.fung@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Tarah D. Gilles can be reached at tarah.gilles@thecrimson.com.

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