By David Liebler.
Located along a gritty section of Long Beach Boulevard, across the street from a 99 cent store and a used-car dealership – far away from the bright lights and glamour of Southern California – sits a non-descript two-story building. The only marking on the façade is a brightly colored mural above the entry way. Amidst a rainbow and dolphins, it reads, “Paths to Wellness and Recovery.” This is Los Angeles County’s Long Beach Mental Health Clinic.
I enter the building and go through security under the watchful eye of the guard and a few clinic clients hanging around. I am taken upstairs to meet members of the “team.” What I find is a group of individuals utterly dedicated to improving the lives of their clients. They are the foundation of the “Care Clinic” – a fairly new, one-stop delivery system that fully integrates health care screenings, substance abuse and mental health services into a client’s treatment plan.
Helping people with mental illness or substance abuse issues is a difficult business. It’s incredibly far removed from the international poshness of the Grand Prix race that was being held down the street just days after my visit. But the team members know when they are making a difference. And that just serves as extra motivation for them. This is more than a job, it’s a calling.
Supervisor Gabriela Zuniga talks with pride about the team she helped put together and leads. She has seen the improved delivery and the satisfaction of both clients and clinic staff. She talks about the significant reduction in hospitalizations as a result of the Care Clinic.
Courtney Cabrera is a psychiatric social worker. She is willing to step in and do whatever is needed to assist clients, as well as the case managers and psychiatrists who juggle demanding schedules. Courtney works with substance abuse clients and sees the positive impacts from the relationships she has built with her clients.
Berta Martinez is the team’s community worker and health navigator. She spotlights a number of success stories of how she has helped clients successfully navigate the maze of the complex health system or served as a much-needed translator.
Yu-Chien Chu is a mental health counselor and registered nurse. She quietly explains how she works with the psychiatrists to ensure that clients are getting their health screenings. She makes sure each client’s physical profile is current and educates clients regarding their health.
Yes, the Long Beach Care Clinic is a new form of service delivery that is helping mental health clients in Los Angeles County. It’s succeeding and making a difference. But the Care Clinic is also the essence of county government: it’s people helping people.