Many Latinos in LA County are essential workers who do not have the option of working from home, which puts them at a higher risk of exposure to the virus. Though a high number of Latinos hold down full-time jobs, many lack medical insurance and access to quality mental health care. In LA County, Latinx communities have the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the highest death rate, adding to their stress and anxiety. To mitigate this health disparity, today the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, and co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, directing the County Department of Mental Health (DMH) to expand mental health services for Latino immigrant and nonimmigrant populations impacted by COVID-19.

“Our communities of color are on the frontlines of this pandemic and are unable to telecommute, which adds to their stress and anxiety,” said Supervisor Solis. “Sadly, many Latinos lack access to quality mental health care, but through our partnership with Dr. Cynthia Telles of UCLA’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence, we are ramping up our services to individuals who are suffering silently. There is no stigma in seeking help from mental health professionals. It is a sign of strength, and I want everyone to know they can reach out to us if they are feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19.”

In recent months, UCLA’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence (HNCE) has partnered with DMH to train bilingual/bicultural neuropsychologists to meet the emerging mental health needs of underserved immigrant communities affected by COVID-19. HNCE and DMH have also worked closely with community clinics, health centers, and churches to serve communities of color that are experiencing high levels of stress and angst due to the coronavirus.

“The isolation from physical distancing and the stress from economic hardship and uncertainty are taking a toll on everyone,” said Supervisor Hahn. “And it’s times like these that many people turn to their places of worship and their faith-based communities for support and comfort. Through this program we can train faith leaders to provide mental health support during this trying time.”

With an 18.9 percent unemployment rate, Latinos are the racial/ethnic group hardest hit by the economic downturn, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many Latino families are struggling to put food on the table, which strains their mental health. In this crisis, it is crucial that our communities know of services that will help them stay healthy.

“Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, both physically and mentally, and they need access to culturally appropriate mental health services to heal,” said Dr. Telles, director of UCLA’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence. “We are partnering with faith-based organizations, churches, community clinics, and local health centers to reach individuals who may be reluctant to seek professional care. Promotores are trusted messengers who will connect people with services that will enhance their mental health.”

Since this partnership began, more than 26 churches throughout the County have completed mental health trainings to help culturally diverse communities deal with COVID-19. Upwards of 60 faith-based organizations, as well at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, are scheduled to participate in upcoming virtual trainings.

The partnership between HNCE and DMH also entails enlisting and equipping promotoras to help alleviate stress among LA County’s Spanish-speaking communities. ’Promotores de salud,’ also known as promotoras, is the Spanish term for ‘community health workers.’ So far, over 140 promotoras have participated in these virtual trainings.

Today’s motion calls for a 30-day report back on the feasibility of expanding these programs and identifying funding streams to support it.

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Contact: Rosa Maria Santana, Deputy Director of Communications, rsantana@bos.lacounty.gov