After five Temple deaths, students call university’s counseling services inadequate

Students walk past Samuel Paley Library on the Temple University campus, where a student died of a drug overdose on Dec. 1.

Students walk past Samuel Paley Library on the Temple University campus (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After two students died of drug overdoses last week, Temple University has lost five students this semester — and some students say that the university’s response is falling short.

On Nov. 27, marketing major Michael Paytas, 24, died after he was found unresponsive in Temple’s library. Then, on Saturday, another student in the business school, 20-year-old James Orlando, overdosed in his off-campus apartment. The Philadelphia medical examiner hasn’t said which drugs were involved in these deaths.

Some students say the notes of support university President Richard Englert sent out after the deaths of Paytas and Orlando followed the same formula in emails sent after the three other students died of other causes earlier in the semester.

It’s begun to feel “kind of like there’s a form letter that they send,” said Kate Lyn Broom, a junior political science major from McLean, Virginia.

Broom, 22, said that each time, the emails encouraged students who need help to visit Tuttleman Counseling Services, the school’s mental health center. But Broom and other students say Tuttleman already struggles to keep up with demand.

“That’s something that I’m hearing more and more from people, and people are getting frustrated, because it has been a hard semester,” she said.

When she tried to get help as a freshman, Broom said, she waited for more than an hour before meeting with an intake counselor who told her to come back for an appointment four weeks later. She said sometimes the wait is so long that students don’t get as far as that initial meeting with an intake counselor.

The university’s director of counseling services, John DiMino, said Tuttleman has the equivalent of 22 full-time counselors for a student population of 40,000, which he said should be enough to meet students’ needs.

“I don’t feel there’s any piece of the service that we’re not able to provide,” DiMino said.

Temple senior Joseph Basile said he’s heard complaints similar to those expressed by Broom.

“For some actual psychiatric workups, there are two-month wait times I’ve heard of,” Basile said.

DiMino said the center uses a triage system to prioritize students with urgent needs. Those who are in crisis can get counseling within two to five days, he said, while wait times for other students this semester have been up to three weeks.

That’s on par with other universities, DiMino said.

But, after the string of deaths on campus this semester, many students are saying that’s not enough.

The other student fatalities include Cariann Hithon, Richard Dalcourt and Jenna Burleigh.  Hithon, 22, was fatally shot by police after crashing into a detective’s cruiser in Miami.  Dalcourt, 19, fell to his death from the top floor of his dorm building.  Burleigh, 22, was killed in late August allegedly by Joshua Hupperterz.

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