It seems there have always been those who need a bit more help than others because of finances -- the less fortunate of every community. Today, in this economic crisis, that category is expanding as more companies drop health coverage or increase the employees portion forcing them to drop coverage.
Add rising gas prices, even in the Valley, things are tough. Depression can strike anyone. Anxiety can create physical and mental symptoms as do Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and domestic violence. Without money, insurance, what’s a person to do?
Hope Family Health Center opened it’s doors to its first therapy session in 1998. Thirteen years later they are still going strong and added medical care to their list of benefits for the less fortunate of every community.
“Usually our patients are 200 percent below the poverty level with the poverty level for a family of one at $10,830, two at $14,570. The patients we see usually are working families who make below the poverty level with children and elderly parents they take care of on a regular basis,” said Rebecca Ramirez, executive director at Hope. “They have to be 100 percent uninsured with no Medicaid, no Medicare, no county indigent funds and no private insurance. Recently, we’ve had a lot of people who’ve called who are having to drop their current insurance because it’s too expensive and want to see if they qualify.”
Processing 150 people a month, about half are qualified for care.
“Some are for counseling, but the majority are for medical,” Rebecca said.
Therein lies a bit of a dilemma for them.
“We know the counseling needs are there because we’ve seen it in the past and we know there’s a lot of people out there suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. It just seems that our counselors have more availability now. We don’t have the same number of clients as this time last year and we don’t know if it’s because people aren’t aware of our counseling program anymore,” she said.
With four full-time counselors and three counselors/social workers, they have the staff waiting and more than capable. Hope’s counselors continue to upgrade their status taking the state clinical and medical exams, giving them the ability to supervise other counselors want to receive their clinical license.
Rebecca thinks the low counseling clientele could be because of the attitude found in the Valley. Even though it is 2011, many people here still have old mind sets about counselors and receiving therapy.
“I don’t want to go to counseling because I’m not crazy!” or
“I don’t need help. I’m fine.”
“Having depression doesn’t mean crazy. Having anxiety doesn’t mean crazy. Being in a domestic violence situation doesn’t mean crazy, nor does having Post Traumatic Stress disorder,” Rebecca said with emphasis. “I hope that attitude goes away soon because there are people out there who need counseling and we can help.
“There might be a family crisis where a child is going through stress in school and the parents don’t know how to handle it. Maybe parents may not know how to handle working with their child who has ADHD or other learning problems.
“One woman involved in our counseling was in a very violent relationship where she was also a participant of the violence. Through counseling she obtained the self-esteem to get out of that relationship and went to anger management classes for herself here at the clinic,” Rebecca said. “She found a safe place to stay at Mujeres Unidas and eventually got on her own two feet with her own apartment. That’s a success story in itself.”
There are more success stories and Rebecca loves to talk about them. Since she is also a counselor at the clinic, she is intimately involved in this department. Having a good relationship with the counselor is at the top of her list for patients to remember.
“If you’re not getting good results with one counselor, try another,” she said.
Always looking for ways to add new programs to their list, Hope has added a new women’s group.
“We have women come in who need some assistance with learning how to deal with their stress of everyday life,” Rebecca said. “We recently started a women’s group on health and well being. This is a six-week-long, closed group with a maximum of 10. We teach everything from nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to Zumba. There’s a session on financial management, everyday etiquette as well as applying for a job, and filling out resumes. I’m really excited about it. I think we have a great counseling program.”
Then, of course, there’s their medical program. Working with local hospitals their doctors are volunteers which doesn’t allow for walk-ins, except for the counseling program.
“The doctors let us know a month in advance when they are able to come and we’ll call the patients to schedule them. We’re real lucky because we have a waiting list of about a week to two weeks and it used to be three months,” she said.
Always on the hunt for new volunteer doctors, they will have a doctor who finally has their children out of college and are ready to become volunteers. Students from the Physician Assistants program at UTPA will do their rotations at the clinic seeing first hand what it’s like to work at a clinic for the less fortunate.
The hardest thing is keeping the whole thing going. Living off fundraisers and grants, Hope is constantly looking for ways to survive financially.
“When one fundraiser’s done, it’s time to do another one. When one grant report’s done, there’s another one waiting,” she said with a sigh. “My job is hard because I’ve got to find a balance somewhere.”
From counseling to fundraiser to representing the clinic in the community, Rebecca’s energy remains high -- mostly.
“It’s definitely something that, at the end of the day, goes home with me and I have to learn to remember I need to take care of myself before anyone else.”
Chris Cantu, counseling services coordinator, gives his clients a visual aid to help them remember to put themselves first, an analogy Rebecca takes personally.
“When you’re on an airplane and they tell you if the face mask falls down, put it on yourself before helping the child next to you. You have to be able to be in that position to breathe, to think for yourself, to be your own person before you can help anybody else in the world, whether it’s your family, wife, husband, children,” said Chris. “If you’re not 100 percent there, then you can’t help anybody else.”
And Hope still loves to help, reaching out into the community with their mental health training series.
“It’s grown and grown and grown,” Rebecca said. “Last year we brought somebody down from the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research which is an internationally known counseling center. This year we have Cynthia Franklin, PhD, LCSW, LMFT, from the University of Texas-Austin coming on Thursday, May 5, to do a training session on Solution Focus Brief Therapy for Children and Adolescence. It’s for the community but mental health professionals can earn continued education credits. We want to bring more professionals here to help our mental health community.”
Through it all, the whole staff believe in their mission.
“I think I can probably speak for everybody who works here. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love the work we do. We all have this common goal of wanting everybody who walks in the door to receive the same quality of health care as anybody else who has insurance,” she said earnestly. “If somebody comes to get help, we want to make sure their’re going to get the help they need.”
For further information, call Hope Family Health Center at 994-3319, 2332 Jordan Road, McAllen.