Orange County Latinx Call for Better Mental Health Resources

The auxiliary room at Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill quickly filled to capacity On Thursday night, passionate members of Orange County’s Latinx community gathered for a mental health public meeting. Overwhelmingly, they were concerned about the ongoing and ever-present mental health crisis in their community.

“We ask ourselves what keeps you up at night?” Luis Royo, a deacon at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, asked to open the event. “Latino leaders have sounded the alarm.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, more than 18 percent of Hispanic or Latinx adults in the United States experienced mental illness in 2020, a percentage not much different from the reported 22.6 percent of non-Hispanic white adults who reported mental illness. felt. year. However, the Hispanic community has been treated unequally due to lack of funding and bilingual care.

,[In the Latinx community]When our people muster up the courage to speak up, they often don’t know where to go. Unfortunately, this is a silent crisis,” Royo continued. “The church is often the first place a Hispanic person goes for help, and without institutions that offer help in their language, the church is the only place become where they can go. Today is the day that can change. We’ve lost too many lives to the mental health crisis.”

For many years, undocumented immigrants and people in the Latinx community supported by Medicaid who suffer from mental health illnesses, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities relied almost entirely on El Futuro, a local nonprofit based in Orange County. One of the few organizations operating in the county. Provide mental health care service to the underrepresented and Latinx community.

But due to ongoing issues with funding—which led to Cardinal Innovation Healthcare Solutions, the managed care organization (MCO) serving Orange County at the time of the 2012 cut, and El Futuro’s ability to treat undocumented immigrants ineligible for Medicaid Has to absorb costs — The nonprofit closed its Carrboro location in 2015, leaving the local Latinx community in the lurch and in need of help.

“We’re in a deep, deep hole, but that’s why we’re here,” Royo concluded. “We want to come out as a united community.”

Leaders from the nonprofit groups Orange County Justice United and the North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations organized last week’s assembly. Several Orange County commissioners and representatives from Alliance Health—the MCO now responsible for administering publicly funded behavioral health care services for Medicaid members and the uninsured in Orange and four other counties—set out a set of proposals for better mental health treatment. Joined the assembly to discuss the list. Health within the Latinx community of Orange County.

However, Orange County’s mental health crisis is not new. It was back in 2013 when the aforementioned Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, then the MCO responsible for distributing state and federal Medicaid dollars in a 15-county area that included Orange and Chatham, made headlines for exorbitant CEO pay, lavish board retreats, and the apparent mismanagement of government funding, allegedly hoarding $70 million that was meant for patient services. Cardinal Innovations was alleged to have paid its CEO more than $1.2 million in state permits without obtaining the proper approvals. The cardinal’s CEO at the time, Richard Topping, was reportedly receiving more than $600,000 a year in 2016, well over the $187,000 mandated by government law.

Late last year, North Carolina’s Department of Health transferred responsibility for providing mental and behavioral health services for Medicaid patients away from Cardinal Innovation and to Alliance Health. But members of Orange County’s Latinx community are concerned about the transition.

“Tonight I’m urging our state representatives and the leadership at Alliance Health to take this very seriously, because this is a crisis,” said Orange County resident Diana Huerta. “I cannot imagine all the pain he went through. Lots of people need help. We are crying out for help.”

Huerta was one of three who gave personal testimony at the meeting; Two other attendees said they were angered and disappointed by the lack of initiative shown by local leaders toward the mental well-being of the community.

“It didn’t happen by accident,” Katherine Ward, a psychologist and coach for the mental health research team at Justice United, said at the event. “It happened out of lack of interest.”

Ward said the community is no longer willing to settle for less than it deserves.

“Alliance Health has an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past,” Ward continued, “[but] To be recognized by the Alliance, we need to organize as a community and share a collective power. We need a concrete proposal, and that is why we are here today with clear and precise proposals.”

Ward continued by reading a list of resolutions from Orange County Justices United. First, the group calls for the creation and maintenance of a guide to mental health services for the Latinx community. Second, it calls for more resources for mental health group sessions (including workshops). Third, it calls for investment in community health workers who are equipped to provide basic mental health services. And finally, the group wants community leaders to ensure that Orange County’s future crisis/diversion facility has bilingual, culturally responsive staff and that it invests in bilingual therapist retention and recruitment.

Ward’s proposals were greeted with applause. Shortly thereafter, the Orange County commissioners and Alliance health representatives took the stage.

“During the COVID pandemic, mental health needs have grown exponentially in Orange County, the state and around the world,” said Orange County Commissioner Amy Fowler. “We are all here tonight because we care, and we want to hear how best to serve you and all of Orange County’s residents.”

Fowler, a pediatrician, shared with the room his daily experiences with patients suffering from mental health issues and their fight to find a cure.

Following remarks from Fowler and other local leaders, representatives from Alliance Health took the stage, including Sean Schreiber, COO of Alliance Health.

“The coalition formally believes that one of the best things we can do in every community is to expand behavioral health care,” Schreiber said. “It’s a huge issue nationwide, not just in these communities.”

“As a funder of the local mental health authority and services, we often get a lot of offers,” he continued. “What really excited me about this proposal was that the first requirement was for good partnerships, and it’s really much easier to move forward with these kinds of initiatives when you have good partnerships.”

Marcus McFall, a reverend from Binkley Church, ended the gathering on a hopeful note.

“Today is a new day,” he said, hands outstretched in prayer. “The light has come out; The sun has come out.”

support independent local journalism, Join the Indie Press Club For helping us keep the fearless surveillance reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.

comment on this story [email protected],


Leave a Comment