External reviewers brought in to assess Monsour as wait times climb to a month

a nameplate that reads "health and wellness center" and another below reading "monsour counseling and psychological services" on a door.
The wait time for a regular appointment at Monsour is back up to four weeks. (Jessica Phan • The Student Life)

It’s been yet another semester of month-long waits and patient complaints, and now a panel of outside specialists is on campus to evaluate Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services.

Nearly 20 students gathered at the Honnold-Mudd Library on Monday afternoon to provide input for an external review of Monsour commissioned by The Claremont Colleges Services. The review board is comprised of student wellness administrators from Lewis and Clark College, Princeton University and the California Institute of Technology.

Students raised issues ranging from inconsistent availability and session limits to inhumane treatment when hospitalized at outside institutions to gaps in specialists’ coverage.

“What I am hearing that I have never heard before is the reputational issues of the counseling center,” Robin Holmes-Sullivan, dean of students at Lewis and Clark, said. “Truly, I’ve been in this for 27 years. I have never heard anything like I’m hearing today.”

Tensions over mental health came to a head at the Claremont Colleges last year as a student coalition, Students for an Accountable Pomona, demanded that Pomona College cover off-campus therapy and hire staff to address specific affinity groups’ needs, according to previous TSL reporting.

Students also said the deaths of two CMC students last year, and administrations’ difficulties providing support in response, showed gaps in how urgent needs are addressed.

Monsour has struggled with staff vacancies and fluctuating wait times for several years. 

It managed to decrease the waiting period for regular appointments to two and a half weeks last March, TSL reported at the time. But despite new hires, wait times have now lengthened back to four weeks, TCCS spokesperson Laura Muna-Landa said via email.

Our goal is to see every student requesting an intake appointment prior to the end of the current semester,” she said.

Such a backlog is unusually large, Holmes-Sullivan said.

“I do think that it’s reasonable to expect to utilize services within about seven or 10 days,” she said.

A 2018 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors of 571 college counseling centers found the average wait for a first appointment was just under a week. Among clients who spent any time on a waitlist, the average wait grew to 17.7 days.

Following a $20,000 “correction” to therapists’ pay last semester, Monsour has filled all counseling vacancies, Muna-Landa said.

It recently hired a senior staff psychologist specializing in outreach to Asian American, Asian Pacific Islander and Asian students, she said, as well as two senior staff therapists, a staff therapist and a crisis therapist.

The center aims to further improve service by hiring temporary staff, having already brought on an additional temporary part-time therapist.

“With these new hires, we are expecting the wait time to decrease,” Muna-Landa said.

Monsour’s website now lists 17 counseling staff members, including three post-doctoral therapists.

The reviewers said their findings would culminate in both a verbal report and a written report to 5C and TCCS administrators. Students at the forum asked if reviewers could recommend the report be released to students.

“Especially given the trust issue that you’re all talking about, it seems like that would be very prudent to do,” Holmes-Sullivan answered.

Muna-Landa said it was “unlikely” that the full report could be made available to students but that the consortium may be able to share an executive summary.

We acknowledge the difficulty of meeting the burgeoning demand for individual appointments,” she said. “The TCCS administration continues to look closely at the mission and model of our service. We engaged external reviewers to offer perspective and feedback, and will use the information gleaned from their report as well as other evidence to determine how best to address the demand for services in the future.”

This article was updated Nov. 22, 2019 at 5:33 p.m.

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