When Annenberg Media reporter Nicholas Berlet visited the Engemann Student Health Center as a student last Thursday for counseling services, he was told that he must enter his name in a lottery system and may have to wait to receive long-term care.

Berlet was informed by psychologist Dr. Yong S. Park after his primary appointment that he, like every USC student, was eligible for five sessions total, but in order to receive more, he needed a referral from a counselor who would place him in a lottery for treatment on the fifth floor. His other option is to seek counseling outside of USC.

The fifth floor of Engemann, which opened in November, is entirely dedicated to long-term therapeutic services. In order to receive counseling from therapists or psychiatrists on the fifth floor, students must first have a session on the third floor and be recommended to see a counselor on the fifth floor. But even appointments on the third floor are limited, with few appearing in the online scheduling systems students use to sign up for appointments.

Steven Siegel, chair of the department of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences, explained that since the fifth-floor clinic opened in November, they have only filled their staff to one-third of its capacity. Until new staff is trained over the summer, the clinic cannot treat every student in need of help. Thus, he told Annenberg Media that a lottery system is put in place to randomly select people who get referrals to the new 5th-floor clinic, instead of getting referrals to off-campus clinics.

“Yes, there is a lottery, it is not a permanent situation,” Siegel said “It is a way to acknowledge that as we’re building this new clinic, it simply lacks the full bandwidth that it will have eventually. We need a way to do this that is fair, equitable, and provides everybody an equal chance at a referral, but once you have a referral, you get to see a doctor,” he said.

Some students around USC expressed their concerns with the lottery system, stressing that those who need the services the most should be the ones to receive them, which isn’t guaranteed by the lottery system.

“It seemed like a no-brainer, of course, I would just go up to the fifth floor,” said Berlet, “I figured they might not have enough people; however, given my needs, they might allow me up to the fifth floor. To my surprise, and dismay actually, I found out that it wasn’t my needs that mattered at all.”

Rachel Emig, a student majoring in interactive entertainment, said that while she had never been turned away from receiving services at USC Student Health, she had been encouraged to seek help elsewhere.

“I understand if they are still getting it off the ground,” Emig said, “but that seems like it isn’t the best solution, it’s not ideal.”

USC Student Health has been criticized by students in the past for a lack of mental health services and availability, with students expressing their concerns over inaccessibility, a limited number of appointments and time slots available.

Editor’s Note: Annenberg Media reporter Nicholas Bartlet visited USC Student Health as a student, not a reporter, but his personal experience is a part of the story and that is why he has been included as a voice in the piece. Annenberg Media also reached out to Engemann for confirmation and was provided with a comment from Steven Siegel.

Correction made 5:16 p.m., March 5, 2020: A previous version of this story refers to the fifth floor of Engemann building as USC Engemann. USC Student Health is at the Engemann Building, but USC Student Health is not USC Engemann. USC Student Health is an accurate way of referring to the fifth floor.