La Selva Community Clinic: Providing Culturally Competent Care

son giving his mother a kiss on cheek34% of Hispanic/Latinx adults with mental illness receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 45%. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020)

September 15th through October 15th marks Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month and like the general population, the Hispanic/Latinx community is similarly vulnerable to mental illness. However due to systemic inequalities, this community, like other communities of color does not receive the proper access and quality of care that is needed to thrive.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than half of Hispanic young adults ages 18-25 with serious mental illness may not receive treatment. This inequality puts these communities at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions, because without treatment, mental health conditions often worsen.

Momentum for Health is working to address these inequalities through our La Selva Community Clinic which provides culturally competent behavioral health services to the Hispanic/Latinx community. We interviewed La Selva Community Clinic Clinician, Valentina Helo-Villegas and Manager, Martha Zambrano for a deeper look at the program.

What is La Selva Community Clinic?

La Selva Community Clinic is a collaborative space where clients seeking behavioral health services can find a variety of free support that can be tailored to their needs. We serve the uninsured and underinsured populations, and our services are available in English and Spanish.

When a client comes to us, they can choose from a variety of services that include:

  • Psychiatric services/medication management
  • Individual Psychotherapy
  • Case management and linkage to resources
  • Workshops in a variety of mental health related topics
  • Assistance enrolling in low-cost medication programs

We provide services in person, as well as telehealth (via phone or zoom).

What challenges does the Hispanic/Latinx community face with mental health?

One of the most frequent challenges that the Hispanic/Latinx community faces when talking about mental health services is the lack of culturally and language competent services. Too often, Spanish-speaking clients must use translation to be able to access psychiatric services and psychotherapy. This poses a challenge since often, the meaning of what the clients are trying to share can get lost in translation and they don’t feel understood. At La Selva Community Clinic, our team is bilingual and bicultural which ensures that our clients will be able to communicate with their care team in their native language.

One common reason why our clients come to us is because their anxiety and depression symptoms are overwhelming them. Often, our clients have lived highly stressful lives, where trauma is frequent, and access to mental health has needed to be delayed because of reasons that range from lack of time and resources to cultural/societal stigma. Most of our clients come to us after having tried other ways to feel better that have not worked. Our language and culturally competent comprehensive services support clients in building skills and coping mechanisms, as well as provide psychiatric services so they can start feeling better sooner.

The lack of access to resources interferes with our clients’ ability to be well. They are frequently behind on bills, are food insecure or are struggling with stable housing. When that’s the case, we provide individualized case management to ensure each client’s mental health and wellbeing recovery is not negatively impacted by lack of access to concrete resources.

What is one thing you enjoy about your work?

Valentina (La Selva Clinician): La Selva Community Clinic is one of the most fulfilling professional experiences of my career. Working so closely with a team of dedicated, passionate, and competent care providers makes a really big difference in the impact that I feel I can have with my clients. Whenever I’m concerned about the lack of progress of a client, I can always talk to their psychiatrist, access case management, see them for a bit longer if needed, and can count on the clinic to have the best interest of the clients in mind.

It is truly difficult to find language and culturally competent programs for the population that we serve and the team at La Selva Community Clinic is of very high quality. I really enjoy being able to know that my clients are in excellent hands and are receiving great care.

What is one challenge of your work?

Valentina: It is often challenging to meet the needs of the population. Our program is wonderful and of high quality but the need for more culturally and language competent care is higher than our current capacity.

Martha: We wish we could see everyone that needs our services, but our program is small, and we have limited funding which limits our staffing. We also serve those that live, work, or go to school in Santa Clara County, and it is truly our hope to be able to provide services to anyone that is needing support regardless of where they live.

How can people get help or get involved with La Selva?

People can call us at 650-617-8350 and talk to Martha about our program and services. They can also check out our website at La Selva Community Clinic – La Selva Group (thelaselvagroup.org) and send us a message.