Latino Behavioral Health Services has made huge strides in closing the gap in mental health services for Utah's Hispanic population.
But the nonprofit's small facilities often meant it was forced to limit the number of clients it could serve at any given time. A new, bigger facility located on the first floor of 3269 S. Main in Salt Lake City is allowing Latino Behavioral Health to serve about double the few thousand clients it previously had.
Latino Behavioral Health offers mental health services like counseling, peer support groups and classes in English, Spanish and Portuguese for children and adults. The majority of clients are Spanish-speaking, under- or uninsured, house insecure and unemployed.
Board Chairwoman and co-founder Teresa Molina said the nonprofit was established to address what she saw was a stark lack of mental health services for the Latino community.
"We knew our kids, our people, were dying like flies and that we needed to have better health services," she said. "We are nowadays over 15-17% of the overall state population, and in certain counties over 20%. There is no way we can expect this critical mass to learn English to be able to receive mental health services. We need to create providers whose main language is Spanish and that's what we are doing as Latino Behavioral. We are creating this workforce from the ground up."
Executive Director Javier Alegre said the new office is not only about 2.5 the times amount of square feet, but it also provides a number of different rooms that allow employees to provide different types of services simultaneously, something that wasn't possible in the prior space. A handful of new employees and interns have also been hired to help handle the new workload.
The new space has two living room areas as well as a kitchen and dining room table that Alegre hopes will encourage clients to gather around and connect with one another. Maps of different Latin American countries and a handmade tapestry decorate the walls and the youth room features posters of characters from the Disney movie "Inside Out."
"It also has given us the opportunity to make it our own and to decorate it, to make sure that is welcoming and to make sure that it represents our community," Alegre said. "That was very important to us. As you can see in the space, it doesn't look like a traditional therapy office or a traditional clinic — and that was intentional."
That outward representation of the community is reflective of the nonprofit's commitment to providing services that are both language-specific and culturally responsive. For many of Latino Behavioral's clients, receiving care in their own language that is culturally relevant makes all the difference. Molina pointed to her co-founder, Jacqueline Gomez-Arias, as an example.
"She was the survivor of five suicide attempts. She had been in multiple treatment centers. She could never get on her feet until she started receiving peer support in Spanish," Molina said. "She was an immigrant in this very land of Utah for over 35 years. And it wasn't until she received services in Spanish that she got on her feet, and all her full potential and power is fueling us yet. So let's be serious about providing services in native languages if we really want our population to thrive."
Latino Behavioral Health is accepting new patients but currently has about a two-month waitlist. Alegre said that's still much shorter than the six- to nine-month wait with public sector health care providers — a wait that can stretch out even longer for those looking for a Spanish-speaking provider.
Although the new facility brings a sense of accomplishment, Alegre is already looking to the future.
"I feel accomplished and I feel like we're doing what we need to do, but at the same time, I feel worried and concerned that we may not have the capacity even now with more space, more staff," he said. "Once the community knows that we are here and we're bigger and have more capacity — you know, we already have a waitlist. So what is that going to look like?"
More information about Latino Behavioral Health Services is available on its website.