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Breaking down barriers to mental health care

Kaiser Permanente Northern California is helping expand mental health care services to communities in Santa Cruz.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on and greatly exacerbated the need for mental health care, particularly among underserved communities. As part of a $1.5 million grant package for community nonprofits in Santa Cruz County to increase housing, food, and other social services, Kaiser Permanente is supporting 2 longstanding mental health care organizations.

Community Bridges, which provides behavioral health and social services to low-income seniors and Latinx families throughout the county, has received $150,000. The funds will be used to support paid internships for 2 full-time and 1 part-time bilingual mental health providers at its in-house clinic.

Ray Cancino, CEO of the nonprofit, said this means clients will no longer have to travel to a separate location for support. Now, Community Bridges can provide on-the-spot counseling care to 120 people annually.

Ray Cancino

“These families can get immediate help for issues they are facing: chronic stress, trauma, grief, and financial and food insecurity,” Cancino said. “We are currently working through a long waitlist of families in need.”

It’s also the role of the counselors to assess additional needs of the families and connect them to other local, state, and federal social services.

Creating opportunities for bilingual counselors

Cancino explained that the county has a severe shortage of Spanish-speaking behavioral health professionals. This grant allows Community Bridges to create paid opportunities for mental health providers of color.

Steve Weiss, MSW, is a newly hired associate clinical social worker at Community Bridges. “Having someone our clients can speak to who respects their culture and wants to hear their stories is a huge relief for them,” Weiss said. “We are not just providing a clinical service; it’s a point of connection for someone in need.”

Having someone our clients can speak to who respects their culture and wants to hear their stories is a huge relief for them. We are not just providing a clinical service; it’s a point of connection for someone in need. – Steve Weiss

These specific grants are part of Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to decrease social barriers to help ensure equal access to mental health care for everyone.

“For families who struggle to pay rent or buy food, mental health care can often take a back burner,” said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affair. “These grants are meant to provide equitable access to quality resources for all families by breaking down these barriers. Mental health care is integral to a person’s wellbeing, and Kaiser Permanente continues to strive to make it accessible to everyone.”

A new, state-of-the-art facility

For more than 40 years, Encompass Community Services has provided mental health and substance use disorder programming for adults and youth. Its Sí Se Puede residential treatment center in Watsonville, California, is one of the only bilingual and monolingual rehabilitation environments in the county.

However, the current facility is outdated and unable to serve the growing demand for care. Kaiser Permanente has donated $200,000 to support the construction of a larger, state-of-the-art facility along with additional funding from Santa Cruz County.

It will allow Encompass to expand its residential and outpatient substance use disorder and mental health treatment capacity by 30% to serve more than 1,300 community members annually. Construction will begin in June 2023 and include a new outdoor courtyard, additional residential beds, and expansion of clinical space.

Monica Martinez

“Our community needs a new behavioral health center now to address critical and growing health needs that are only becoming more acute in the wake of COVID-19,” said Monica Martinez, Encompass CEO. “Kaiser Permanente’s support brings us significantly closer to our goal of providing everyone in our community with access to high-quality care that treats them with dignity and respect.”

Read about the variety of grants Kaiser Permanente donated to Santa Cruz County to increase health equity.

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Community Givingmental healthSanta Cruz

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