Building Healthier Communities Requires a Holistic Approach to Mental Health Services/Care

December 13, 2022

Mental health is an essential aspect of overall health. More than 1.4 million adults in Los Angeles County need mental health services because their mental health conditions affect their ability to work, maintain close relationships or care for themselves. While many would benefit from access to counseling or treatment, almost two out of three individuals do not receive the help they need. Social isolation, anxiety and stress linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened these mental health needs, especially for minority groups who have been disproportionately affected.

“Communities of color have profoundly unique lived experiences which include poverty, discrimination, racism, violence and lack of access to resources and healthcare,” explains Dr. Hector Flores, Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at White Memorial Medical Center. “These experiences take a toll on people over time, and we see how individuals with mental health issues that developed in childhood begin to struggle as young adults. When left untreated these mental health issues manifest as physical ailments that deteriorate quality of life and can limit life expectancy.”

Through the Centinela Valley Medical and Community Funds the California Community Foundation (CCF) has granted more than $3 million annually to hospitals and other organizations providing healthcare services, outreach and education in the Centinela Valley. But building healthier communities requires more than just access to care. CCF brings together nonprofits and institutions to address the root causes of major health issues and disparities. We also focus on engaging health leaders and community members to advocate for programs and services that benefit public health.

Dr. Flores shared that, “The partnership with CCF has been transformative for our family medicine practice. The grant dollars we received have allowed us to screen 98% of the senior population in our practice using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). This allows us to take a holistic approach that takes into consideration their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. I am happy to say we have now expanded the PHQ-9 screening to other age groups so we can mitigate mental health issues sooner.”

For Maria, who is a Medicare patient at Dr. Flores’ family practice, having access to a physician who understands the relationship between the mind and the body and can provide her with culturally responsive care in her language of origin has been instrumental. “It’s very overwhelming to navigate the healthcare system. I don’t have any immediate family and I am so grateful to Dr. Flores and his team for taking such good care of me and connecting me to the resources I needed.”

Without any immediate family and living on a fixed income Maria was struggling to connect with the resources that could supplement her transportation and food needs. For patients like Maria having access to a trusted healthcare practitioner to address their complicated medical history is only one component, the other piece is connecting with a case manager who can sit with them to evaluate their individual needs and walk them through enrolling in programs such as CalFresh, Project Angel Food, City Ride, telehealth and more.

“What we have been able to accomplish together serves as an example of what is possible when you have a philanthropy partner that is willing to invest in trying something different”, adds Dr. Flores. “The fact we were able to leverage the CCF grant to get White Memorial Medical Center a multi-million dollar grant from the state Medi-Cal office to partner with LA Care and replicate the model we created in our practice on a larger scale to serve patients who are admitted to the hospital or come to the emergency room with a matrix of services is truly phenomenal.”

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