Valley-born, board-certified child psychiatrist joins Tropical Texas Behavioral Health team

Several things in Dr. Delisa Guadarrama’s life paved the path that led to her becoming a doctor and to her coming home to the Rio Grande Valley.

Guadarrama attended the Oratory Academy (The Pharr Oratory of St. Philip Neri School) until the sixth grade. The school is centered upon teaching children Christian values, a strong curriculum, and bilingual proficiency. This early training in both English and Spanish established a foundation that serves Guadarrama well, even today.

In sixth grade, Guadarrama transferred to Ednburg CISD. While a student at Edinburg High School, she joined the Med Ed program. The purpose of this University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio program was to increase the number of South Texas students in the pipeline for careers in health professions, dentistry, medicine, nursing and biomedical research. At that time, Yvonne Kautsch was the director of the program. Guadarrama credits Yvonne and others involved with the program for introducing her to programs designed for early admittance into medical school.

“I was accepted into three early-admittance programs,” Guadarrama said. “I picked UTPA (now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley).” Through UTPA’s early-admittance program, she could complete her undergraduate degree in three years and then go to medical school at UTHSC for four years.

“I decided to ‘stay local’ instead of starting the debt early,” Guadarrama said. By going to UTPA, she could live at home and focus on school without worrying about unnecessary loans she would eventually have to pay off.

Guadarrama graduated from EHS in 2003. When it came time to declare her major at UTPA, she chose communication journalism as her major, with a concentration in advertising and public relations. She did this purposefully, knowing she would get plenty of science throughout her seven years in the program and wanting to develop other talents in the meantime.

“I didn’t want to drown in only that,” she said.

Guadarrama took a less-traveled path to medical school and to becoming a medical resident. She always remembered the advice she received that residencies are extraordinarily competitive and that those making the decision as to who to accept for residency slots look for things that set one candidate apart from the all of the others.

“I worked for the UTPA newspaper, I studied abroad in Turkey through the Communication’s Department, and I also participated in a pre-med program at Yale (Minority Medical Education Program at the Yale School of Medicine),” Guadarrama said.

Guadarrama actually completed her undergraduate degree in two-and-a-half, rather than three, years, thanks to the 45 hours of concurrent enrollment credit she earned while in high school. This allowed her to take a semester off, working and traveling before beginning medical school. There was an added benefit to the concurrent enrollment hours. They qualified her for a full-tuition scholarship at UTPA through the University Scholars Program.

After taking the spring off, Guadarrama headed to San Antonio for med school in the fall. While in med school, she took part in a UTHSCSA Global Medical Service Trip to Honduras. During her third and fourth years in medical school, Guadarrama returned to the Valley to complete rotations through the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen. It became clear to her, while completing rotations, what she was meant to do. She would apply for a general psychiatry residency (three years) and then complete a second residency in child psychiatry (two additional years).

Guadarrama was selected for a psychiatry residency at UTHSCSA in 2011 and worked at the University Hospital, San Antonio Military Medical Center, and Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital, all in San Antonio. Upon completion of this residency, UTHSCSA once again selected her, this time for a Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship. She completed this residency in July of 2016 and is now a board-certified child psychiatrist.

In September of 2016, Guadarrama accepted a job at Tropical Texas Behavioral Health as a child and adolescent psychiatrist. She is the only female board-certified child psychiatrist in the Upper Valley. She currently treats 4-to-17-year-old patients in Weslaco and in Edinburg. Her fellow board-certified child psychiatrists at Tropical are Dr. Daniel Gutierrez, Chief Medical Officer, and Dr. German Corso, who treats children in Harlingen. (According to Raquel Rosales, community relations coordinator at Tropical, these three are among only five board-certified child psychiatrists in the Valley, and the other two are not currently treating children. A fourth board-certified child psychiatrist will join the Tropical team this summer and will treat patients in Brownsville.)

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, Guadarrama’s job is primarily focused on medication management rather than in-depth therapy, and the most prevalent conditions she treats include anxiety, bi-polar disorder, ADHD, psychosis, and disruptive mood dysregulation, among others. Medical management of these mental health issues is a critical component of the overall care and support for these children and adolescents and for their families.

Guadarrama is happy to see more females entering the field of psychiatry. She is also happy that, as part of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship, emphasis was placed on the residents’ own mental health, teaching them to leave their patients’ care at work, which is very difficult to do.

“It is important to come from a place where it was reinforced,” Guadarrama said. This reflection is important and is different for every person. It may be exercise, meditation, or, as in her case, photography and spending time with her close-knit family.

“I really wanted to be close and to spend time with my parents and my family,” she said. “My parents were so instrumental in teaching us we were going to be successful. It wasn’t an option.”

Successful, indeed. She left the Valley with a bachelor’s degree and a goal. She came home Dr. Delisa Guadarrama, the only female, board-certified child psychiatrist in the Upper Valley.

 

Tropical Texas Behavioral Health Celebrates 50 Years Serving the Rio Grande Valley

 

When Terry Crocker, CEO of Tropical Texas Behavioral Health took this job in 2003, Tropical had 220 employees and served 8,000 patients. Today, Tropical has 1,350 employees and serves 30,000 different patients.

“We serve a lot of people with a lot of needs,” Crocker, who has been in the field of mental health for over 33 years, said.

Fifty years ago, the facility was one of the first community MHMR facilities in the state

(MHMR stands for Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Tropical was formerly named Hidalgo County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center and then Tropical Texas Center for Mental Health and Mental Retardation.)

“This speaks to how deep our roots are grown in this community,” Crocker said.

Tropical Texas Behavioral Health is the local mental health authority, he explained. They conduct assessments and make referrals, connecting patients with the resources available to meet their needs. They also provide direct, ongoing services to the seriously and chronically mentally ill in our community and are the largest provider for these patients.

Much of the credit for this goes to Tropical’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, which provide the most intensive treatment for members of our community with serious mental health issues. Tropical currently has two ACT teams with approximately 80 patients each, and they are preparing to initiate a third team.

“Many of these people would otherwise live in a state facility,” Crocker said. “We are able to keep them safe, happy, and in the community with the level of service we provide. But this type of intensive treatment comes at a price.”

Today, Tropical has 44 different funding streams. This is intentional, Crocker said, “so if any go south, the ship doesn’t sink.”

Tropical relies heavily on their community partners, from their volunteers who answer phones, provide assistance with patient outings, and perform a number of other tasks to the Raymondville, South Padre Island, Los Fresnos, Harlingen, Edinburg, and La Feria police departments and the Cameron and Hidalgo County constables who are all part of Tropical’s Mental Health Officer Task Force. The purpose of this task force is to evaluate and diffuse situations involving mental health patients, getting them the mental health help they need rather than automatically sending them to jail. Tropical also relies on organizations like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Rio Grande Valley, on families with children in treatment who participate in a Tropical family support group, and on the media to help them educate the public about mental health issues.

Crocker and his team at Tropical tirelessly advocate for more mental health services in the Rio Grande Valley. There is a real gap, he says, in the mental health infrastructure here and in the Medicaid reimbursement rates. It is also difficult to find culturally competent (bilingual and bicultural) clinicians with a master’s degree and higher. The employees of Tropical work every day to end the stigma that surrounds mental health, and Crocker has seen some improvement.

“I have definitely sensed a shift in local perception of mental illness,” Crocker said.

Fifty years after its ‘birth’ in the Rio Grande Valley, Tropical Texas Behavioral Health has grown deep roots here and plans to continue to grow the services it offers. Through these services, the mental health of our community will continue to flourish.