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Improving Mental Health Services in Our Borderplex

Updated: Feb 6

TTUHSC El Paso Partners with The MolinaCares Accord and Bank of America Charitable Foundation to Improve Patient Outcomes and Access to Mental Health Services


Navigating the complex landscape of mental health services can be overwhelming, particularly for those who are dealing with mental health challenges.


On Monday, The MolinaCares Accord announced a $75,000 gift that will assist Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso in providing critically needed access to mental health care in our Borderplex – a region that encompasses Texas, Southern New Mexico and Mexico – and throughout West Texas. It will also help establish a “patient navigator,” who will play an important role in the course of treatment for local residents. A portion of the gift will match a $45,000 grant from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation provided in May 2022 to support the TTUHSC El Paso Department of Psychiatry’s Project Apoyo: Patient Navigation for Mental Health. The program was created to improve access, engagement, and retention in treatment for patients receiving mental health care.



Patient navigators serve as a patient’s guide and advocate, helping them overcome barriers to care such as educational and socioeconomic hurdles, lack of insurance, mental health stigmas, and cultural and language differences.


According to Peter Thompson, M.D., M.S., professor and Hunt Family Endowed Chair of TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry, “Having a patient navigator is critical for successful treatment. Navigators help with basic needs, such as ensuring the patient has transportation to their appointments. They guide patients through what may be an unfamiliar health care system, work to get them into the appropriate clinics for treatment and encourage adherence to prescription medication.”


“The patient navigator position helps our clinics address the significant problem of access to the services needed by our residents,” Dr. Thompson said. “Navigators are also trained in culturally competent care – a necessity in a U.S.-Mexico border community that’s 80% Hispanic.”


“Our navigators speak Spanish and understand Hispanic culture, as well as help with familial challenges related to mental health issues,” Dr. Thompson said. “We’re proud that The MolinaCares Accord and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation are leading the way to empower our community with the resources to overcome mental health care barriers.”



A Growing Need for Mental Health Care


Mental health is a significant issue across the country. In 2021, over 57 million adults in the United States – about 1 in 5 – experienced mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


As of February 2023, 36.8% of adults in Texas reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, compared to 32.3% of adults in the U.S., according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.


With the power of meaningful partnerships and The MolinaCares Accord’s focus on building stronger communities, Borderplex and West Texas residents will be able to take charge of their mental health care, which can have a transformative effect on their families for generations to come.


“Complete health care goes beyond just physical health, and addressing the mental health crisis is a vital step in improving Texans’ overall health and well-being,” said Chris Coffey, plan president of Molina Healthcare of Texas. “MolinaCares is dedicated to expanding mental health care access to all Texans, and this partnership is an important step in working toward that goal. We’re thankful for partners like Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and Bank of America who share this mission and look forward to a robust program that will make a difference for the El Paso community.”


Some cultures place a stigma on seeking mental health care, adding to the difficulties of treating a diverse patient population. According to a 2020 National Institutes of Mental Health and Health Disparities report, Hispanics are more likely to drop out before completing treatment and are less likely to obtain follow-up care.


Patient navigation can help overcome those barriers by meeting the needs of patients through family engagement, education, regular follow-ups and building trust along the continuum of care.


Navigators obtain patients’ consent to share health care information to help ensure patients follow through with psychiatry care. Navigators also educate patients on the early recognition of symptoms and medication, and help bridge the gap with physicians, behavioral health providers and community services.


“Many of the situations we encountered during the pandemic were negative, but the shift our society took to place a premium on mental health was definitely a silver lining. At Bank of America, we know that it can be a challenge for members of the El Paso community to access mental health care,” said Kristi Marcum, Bank of America El Paso President. “Bank of America is proud to partner with The MolinaCares Accord to fund Project Apoyo. This program will be a huge leap in the effort to help El Paso residents get the mental health care they want and need, and help us as a community, in our efforts toward advancing economic mobility.



Expanding Access to Care in West Texas


In addition to the support of a patient navigator, The MolinaCares Accord gift will expand telehealth mental health resources for Borderplex and West Texas residents through the Rural Telepsych for Youth program at TTUHSC El Paso.


Rural Telepsych for Youth was launched in February 2022 and benefits residents of 15 West Texas counties by offering critical telepsychiatry sessions provided by specialists from TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry. The initiative complements two existing programs, the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT), and the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN), which are helping families across West Texas with access to mental health care. Rural Telepsych for Youth offers patients in need of mental or behavioral health care up to 12 telepsychiatry sessions instead of five sessions normally offered through TCHATT and CPAN.


In rural communities, barriers to care often are steep and include financial hardships, lack of transportation, and lack of providers.


Mrs. Medina, who asked to be identified by her last name only, said her son has benefited from the Rural Telepsych for Youth program. She sought mental wellness help for him after her family lost beloved relatives to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trauma caused changes in his mood, and he began distancing himself from social settings.


After a year of participating in the program, Medina’s son is doing better.


“The tools and techniques he’s learned, such as self-soothing, are amazing,” Medina said.


If it weren’t for the opportunity to access telepsychiatry through the program, the wait to see a psychiatrist would’ve been one to two months and required more than an hour of travel from their home in Val Verde County.


“It's a very accessible program, and without it we would’ve seen an escalation in his symptoms to something more detrimental to not only himself but to the family,” Medina said. “I’m grateful and blessed my child can use this program to help his journey through life.”


Rural Telepsych for Youth is making an impact by providing care for 65 individuals through 409 patient visits since the program’s inception in 2022.

 
 

YOU CAN HELP


At TTUHSC El Paso, we are committed to growing our own health care heroes and changing the state of health care in our Borderplex. For more information about how you can help, please contact andrea.tawney@ttuhsc.edu or craig.holden@ttuhsc.edu or visit ttuhscep.edu/elpaso/ia/giving/.

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