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Students, SGA candidates hope to lower CAPS costs

Counseling and Psychological Services is located on the second floor of the Student Health Center on Cullen Blvd. Corbin Ayers/The Cougar

The University of Houston’s health services are getting some backlash from students on campus.

Services such as Counseling and Psychological Services, also known as CAPS, and the Student Health Center offer assistance to students ranging from check ups to vaccinations and mental health. For students, these services are locked behind fees, insurance requirements and waiting times, which can be very prohibitive.

“Professors and faculty are always telling us to go see CAPS if we need to talk to someone,” said psychology senior Zainub Mallick. “But when I finally got the courage to go, it was more of a nuisance and headache than just dealing with my issues on my own.”

Mallick said he went to CAPS during the fall in 2018, but he was told it would take four to eight weeks before someone would be able to see him.

“I finally got a call in December during finals that they have availability to see me, but because of finals and leaving out of town I didn’t get a chance to go,” Mallick said.

Alongside wait times, the costs of CAPS services — though cheap comparable to other non-UH alternatives — are considered a hurdle by many students looking to get treatment for their mental health.

“I do have some of anxiety when it comes to some of the systems that are in place at the University,” said Matthew Detwiler, a graduate at the Graduate School of Social Work and a U.S. veteran. “Mental health services at the University should find a way to eliminate the cost.”

While free mental health services would be the ideal scenario for many, CAPS Director Dr. Norma Ngo said the UH administration believes it would be difficult to lower prices because it would compromise service.

“Unfortunately, completely free and unrestricted access to unlimited individual counseling is not sustainable,” Ngo said. “Every counseling center is therefore forced to put certain limitations in order to serve more students.”

SGA election

With the Student Government Association election currently underway, some students said they see this as an opportunity to engage the administration in finding solutions to improve accessibility to CAPS and the Health Center.

For each of the three parties with presidential candidates up for election, the issue of accessibility to health services is a key part of their platforms.

“It is important to work not only to get the Health Center to accept third-party insurance but to accept Medicare and Medicaid as well, which would extend services to lower-income students,” said Cameron Barrett, current SGA president and spokesperson for the incumbent Students Unite party. “There are certain services the Health Center provides which are cheap/free, but there are not as many as there should be.”

“The first thing we have to do is to increase knowledge of health services,” said presidential candidate for Coogs Unite Moiz Syed. “As far as advertising goes, CAPS is already on the syllabus. I want to continue having health services on the syllabus as well as platforms such as Blackboard.”

Claude Johnson, presidential candidate of the EVERY COOG Party, said the issue could be potentially solved through the relocation of certain funds and with help from SGA.

“SGA has the budgetary power to fundraise to help both of these causes, so that’s where our focus lies,” Johnson said.

Outpaced by demand

While wait times and costs of services may be a deterrent for students seeking treatment, CAPS has faced their own barriers to helping students.

“CAPS has been in a situation where demand for our individual counseling services has been outpacing our ability to provide these services,” Ngo said. “We have also found that paying a small fee motivates students to make efficient use of treatment, which allows for better allocation of resources to those student that require them.”

Ngo said CAPS offers exemptions for some students in dire financial straights, including but not limited to the waiving of certain fees.

“We in Health and Wellness strive to keep services as affordable as possible,” said Floyd Robinson, the assistant vice president of Student Affairs-Health and Wellness. “We focus on keeping our students healthy. To that end, prices must be kept low.”

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