Students wait an average of three weeks to get an appointment with Counseling and Psychology Services (CAPS). But for 10 percent of all appointments booked, the students do not show up.
To combat this, CAPS instituted a no-show fine of $30, effective Jan. 1, in order to avoid wasted slots and decrease the wait time for all students. This fine applies to both individual counseling and group therapy, as well as the initial intake appointment for new clients.
With around 950 students depending on CAPS as a resource for psychological support and mental health crises, the appointments are in high demand.
When a student does not show up for their scheduled appointment, the fee will be posted to their student account, staff psychologist Dr. Robin Lee said. If a student contacts CAPS at least one hour before their appointment to either cancel or reschedule their appointment, they will not be charged the fine.
“We decided to do this mostly because last semester, we found there were a lot of no-shows and that really delayed other students who would like to come in for services because they took a spot, then didn’t come,” Lee said. “We thought it would be helpful to implement this policy [in] hope that our slots will be utilized more effectively and more students will be seen here at CAPS.”
An appointment is considered to be a no-show about 20-30 minutes after the scheduled time, according to Lee.
While CAPS tries to schedule people into spots left open by no-shows, intake appointments require paperwork that can take up to 30 minutes, so it can be difficult to schedule another client with this limited amount of time.
“If they [don’t show up], it’s really hard to see someone, and I usually I just do other administrative tasks,” Lee said. “I would be happy to see a student during that hour.”
During the 2017-18 school year, CAPS saw 946 clients for therapy and held 4,732 clinical appointments.
Last academic year, 10 percent of all appointments and 14 percent of intake appointments were no-shows, according to Director Barbara Thomas. This fall saw the same no-show percentage overall — and the percentage of missed intake appointments actually rose.
Thomas said she believes the wait time and the number of no-shows are a positive feedback loop. When students have to wait three to four weeks for their appointments, they might decide to skip their appointment, but that filled slot adds to the list of people waiting.
“If someone had canceled or said, ‘I’m no longer interested,’ we could’ve moved people into that spot,” Thomas said. “That was part of [the reason for implementing the fine] — just trying to see people in the crush of services,” Thomas said.
Freshman nursing student Isabel Friedly believes that CAPS is an important service in the USF community, as it serves students while many of them are away from home for the first time.
Friedly said that the new fine is important because it will give students a fair chance to get an appointment.
“I’ve heard that there’s a waiting list to get an appointment and missing one takes away from someone else’s opportunity to seek help,” Friedly said. “Additionally, I don’t think that [the fine] will discourage someone from making an appointment because the fine can easily be prevented by calling to cancel.”
A sophomore media studies major who asked to remain anonymous had to wait for four weeks both times she tried to get an appointment. She does not approve of the new fine.
“The service is free to students and I understand that they need more appointments to open up,” she said. “However, students should not be charged for [missing their appointment with] CAPS because the service is already free. I think the issue stems from [CAPS] being understaffed. Clearly if the appointments are filled, then the demand is there.”
The notice about the new fine was posted on the CAPS website and sent out to clients in their appointment reminders.
In the first week of the semester there have only been three no-shows, Thomas said. Additionally, students who have a history of not showing up called to cancel.
“In some ways, we are paralleling what happens in the real world when one does not show for appointments with the dentist, or the hairdresser or the exercise coach. There are penalties for that,” Thomas said.
However, while practices outside the University typically impose a fine to compensate employees for their time, CAPS’ primary motivator is to be able to see more people in a timely manner.
“I’m not anticipating we are going to make a lot of money off of this. I am anticipating [that] people will change their behavior around [the] use of [our] services. We want people to take the services seriously,” Thomas said.
CAPS is also considering offering single session therapy sessions and reconfiguring hours to see more people in the evening, in hopes of being able to see more students.