The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to look for ways to expand mental health services — in partnership with faith-based organizations and community clinics — for immigrant communities suffering due to the coronavirus.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn co-authored a motion asking that the county seek funding to train more community health workers, known by many Latinos as promotores de salud. Promotores are seen as trusted advisors in the community and can educate local residents about their options for help.
“Our communities of color are on the front lines of this pandemic and are unable to telecommute, which adds to their stress and anxiety,” Solis said. “Sadly, many Latinos lack access to quality mental health care, but through our partnership with Dr. Cynthia Telles of UCLA’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence, we are ramping up our services to individuals who are suffering silently. There is no stigma in seeking help from mental health professionals. It is a sign of strength, and I want everyone to know they can reach out to us if they are feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19.”
At a Monday news conference, Solis cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that Latinos nationwide have been hardest hit with coronavirus-related job losses, resulting in an 18.9% rate of unemployment.
“As you know, this statistic does not include our undocumented communities,” Solis said Monday.
The struggle to put food on the table for their families is creating psychological distress for many residents, and Solis said she wants to make certain everyone is aware of available county mental health resources.
In addition to training more than 140 promotores to date, the county’s Department of Mental Health is partnering with UCLA’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence to train bilingual/bicultural neuropsychologists to meet the emerging mental health needs of underserved immigrant communities affected by COVID-19.
Hahn said faith-based organizations have helped support these efforts to reach immigrant communities who may be distrustful of government resources, worried about the potential for deportation or wary of the stigma associated with mental health treatment.
“The isolation from physical distancing and the stress from economic hardship and uncertainty are taking a toll on everyone,” Hahn said. “And it’s times like these that many people turn to their places of worship and their faith-based communities for support and comfort. Through this program we can train faith leaders to provide mental health support during this trying time.”
Representatives from more than 26 churches have completed mental health training to help communities deal with COVID-19. More than 60 faith-based organizations, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, are scheduled to take part in upcoming virtual training.
The board directed the CEO to report back in 30 days on the feasibility of expanding those efforts, including identifying ongoing funding sources.
Jorge Partida, the chief of psychology for the Department of Mental Health, also pointed to the outsize effect of COVID-19 on Latino communities during the Monday news conference.
“In the Latino community, we know that we are disproportionately impacted due to many factors, including overcrowding and living circumstances, lack of employment,” Partida said.
Venice Family Clinic, which offers counseling in person as well as by telephone, issued a statement in support of the board’s action.
“Nearly 60% of Venice Family Clinic’s patients are Latinx, and many of them had no choice but to work in high-risk essential service jobs — or lose their incomes — during the pandemic. In doing so, they and their families are at greater risk of infections, especially with multiple generations often living under one roof,” the statement read in part. “Three out of four of our patients live at or below the federal poverty level, which is approximately $26,000 per year for a family of four, and the pandemic has added considerably to their pre-existing economic stress. COVID-19 has significantly increased emotional stress for the entire community, but especially for our patients.”
Countywide, the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths are found in the Latino population. Black and Latino residents are dying at the same rate per 100,000 people, which is nearly twice the rate of white residents.
If not treated now, related mental health problems could affect these families for years, experts warned.
“We recognize that if we don’t deal with these preventative, easier-to-implement solutions now, our Latino community and other underserved communities will be seeing the full impact … in years to come by demonstrating more serious neuropsychological and psychological concerns,” Partida said.
“We have an obligation to mitigate this harm.”
Xavier Cagigas, associate director of the UCLA Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence, said Monday that health workers must overcome the stigma around mental health services in order to raise the level of “health literacy.”
“By reaching out to faith-based organizations, to churches, to synagogues, to mosques, to people who congregate together to worship, we’re able to find that inroad into the community,” Cagigas said.
“What we’ve been finding is it’s not just our most vulnerable community members that are incredibly burdened by everything that is changing in our lives with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest in our society. But it’s also those faith-based organizations, those community-based clinics and organizations, the people who are tasked with reaching out that are also impacted.”
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