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CAMHS Debuts New System to Reduce Wait Time

Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira in his Smith Campus Center office.
Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira in his Smith Campus Center office. By Megan M. Ross
By Ahab Chopra and Ashley M. Cooper, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: March 20, 2018 at 1:45 a.m.

Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services has piloted a new model for service provision to reduce the wait time for students who request therapy appointments—though a high volume of requests has continued to slow response time.

Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira sent an email to College students last week updating them about the changes to the service provision system. In an interview earlier this month, Barreira said the new model is meant to address the “deluge of need that was coming” to UHS.

Barreira said Harvard has seen an uptick in the number of students who are admitted to psychiatric units in recent years. When Barreira started working at Harvard around 14 years ago, 30 students per year entered psychiatric units, he said, compared to 55 in the fall of 2017 alone.

“If you looked at the slope, it's an increasing number of admissions, increasing number of students being admitted for suicidal behaviors too, that’s also just another measure of severity,” he said.

Throughout the month of January, CAMHS employees undertook an “exhaustive review” of the way they provide services, according to Barreira. The staffers ultimately decided institutional change was needed.

“The way counseling and mental health services are structured doesn’t meet the need of contemporary students, so just adding, adding, adding isn’t sufficient—other things have to happen,” Barreira said.

CAMHS evaluated data from previous years to create the new system for treating students. The target wait time for the updated model comprises 48 hours between the time a student requests an appointment and the time they are seen by a team of CAMHS clinicians.

“The CAMHS triage team will work to respond within 48 hours of your booking request to determine the best options for you,” Barreira wrote in the email to students Friday. “For urgent care, mental health clinicians are available for same day appointments.”

After the 48-hour period, according to Barreira, a CAMHS employee is supposed to call or schedule a 30-minute face-to-face conversation with the patient. The student will then have a counseling session with a mental health professional five days after that initial short conversation.

Because this mental health service falls under HUHS, students will have to pay no additional cost, Barreira said.

Even with the new system, though, CAMHS has struggled to meet the high volume of student requests for counseling, he said.

“We haven’t reached that goal yet because instead of 100 a week we’ve got 140 a week, so you know everything has to be examined and then adjusted,” Barreira said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: March 20, 2018

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that CAMHS employees are supposed to schedule a 20-minute face-to-face triage consultations with patients. In fact, CAMHS employees are supposed to schedule 30-minute face-to-face triage consultations with patients.

—Staff writer Ahab Chopra can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ahab_chopra

—Staff writer Ashley M. Cooper can be reached at

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