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Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity & Inclusion

Austin Travis County Integral Care has a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion. Since Integral Care's Board of Trustees formally incorporated cultural competency into its fiscal year 2011-2013 strategic planning efforts as a Strategic Imperative,  we have created cross-cutting strategies to develop goals, guide policies, programming and resource allocations. We promote a culture of inclusion and tolerance that respects different aspects of diversity such as gender, ethnicity, language, culture, sexuality and age to name a few.

In the Spotlight

July is National Minority Mental Health Month

In 2008, the US House of Representatives proclaimed July as this special month, aiming to improve access to mental health treatment and services through increased public awareness. Since then, many organizations have hosted a variety of events and activities in communities across the country each year.

Integral Care, in recognition of National Minority Mental Health Month, will be highlighting local organizations that have a big impact on eliminating health disparities and increasing access to mental health care in our community.

 

 

Finding Joy

An Interview with Amy Wong Mok of the Asian American Cultural Center

Amy Wong Mok is a trained psychotherapist. Many years ago, while working at the Austin Rape Crisis Center, she received many calls from individuals in the Asian American community looking for help and resources. The individuals didn’t know where to begin. Asian Americans represent an incredibly diverse range of cultures, languages and nationalities, Mok realized that there weren’t enough local resources for Asian Americans in Austin. She wanted to give back to her community. When the former site of the local Jewish Community Center came on the market, Mok (with the help of several investors) raised $1 million in only three months to purchase the site. There she founded the Asian American Cultural Center (AACC). Since she founded the center 15 years ago, Mok has been its president, and she has worked hard to build an inviting, supportive space for Austin’s Asian American community.

Tell us a about your organization
There are many cultural barriers being in a new world; fear, insecurity, language, cultural differences. We wanted to celebrate our culture so the Asian American community felt they had a home where they felt secure, understood each other’s cultures and could speak in their own language.

What are some of the mental health issues facing the population you represent?
Many parents come to new environment for their children. But when children are in the US, families may experience cultural differences with their own children. Children may choose not to speak in their native Asian language, or have different values than their parents. So families experience a lot of mental health issues.

Women—especially elderly women who’ve lost their husbands--have the highest suicide rate within the Asian American community. It’s culturally acceptable, and to these women it’s about not being a burden to their children.

What are some strategies your organization uses to address those issues?
We needed to change the language we used when we wanted to talk about mental health. If we used the term “mental health,” families would avoid us. To talk about mental health, you have to listen nonjudgmentally. You also have to help people remove the focus from the difficult situation so they can focus on what gives them joy.

We created activities for women who may be at-risk of suicide know they don’t have to rely on their family members to take care of them, and that there is a community around them that can help them.

It’s important that they become involved, and have activities without feeling threatened. For example, every Friday we have a dance group for elderly Japanese women. Their husbands passed away, and so a lot of the women live alone now. They come to the center for the dance group, and then go have lunch together. It’s become an informal counseling group.

I don’t approach the Japanese women in the dance group and ask them if they are depressed, because they will say they aren’t. Instead, I try to establish a relationship with them by saying something like ’Wow! You did so well, and you have a beautiful costume! Where are you going for lunch?” That way they know they have someone they trust here every week they can talk with.

We also provide citizenship and English classes for the elderly every Saturday. This is also a form of informal group counseling. They learn new skills and why they should become a citizen together.  

The former Jewish Community Center had a preschool. I thought we could start talking about mental health by educating children. I also thought that if we could provide services to children, the adults would come to the center as well.   

Why is understanding someone’s culture so important when helping them with a mental health issue?
To really help a person with a mental health issue, you first have to understand them and their strengths.

In our culture, whatever decisions we make, we’re not just making it for ourselves. I have to think about my family, my children, my community. A lot of women stay in an abusive situations because of their children. That’s why we have so many social activities; women cook together, sew together and while they cook and sew, they start talking about their life.

When I was growing up, China was a male dominated society. My mother had a mahjong club once a month with her friends. It was informal group counseling. The children would crawl under the table, and I would hear the women talking about their lives. Some women projected their lives onto others so they could remove some of the stigma from themselves. They would say something like, “Ms. Wong did this and Ms. Lee did that,” so they could see that they had more options to deal with a certain situation. Every time my mother had a mahjong club, she went home and was more ready to deal with her situations. These women were trying to survive. They were trying to find options to help manage their mental health.

Why is your mission important to the overall health of the community?
Our mission is to provide a space for the exchange of cultures. We wanted to provide cultural education to help Asian immigrants understand American culture and let them know there are resources available to help them.

Every year, we offer different celebrations like Lunar New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival to help introduce our Asian American community to the resources available to them and the wider public to the different Asian cultures. When many people think about Asians, they think about Koreans, Chinese and Japanese. Asia has so many more cultures—like those found in Laos or Cambodia—that many people don’t know about. Education is key, so during the summer camp we hold, we teach our young children about all the different.

During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we also host the annual Austin Asian Occasion to celebrate our culture and raise funds for local nonprofits like Meals on Wheels, Ronal McDonald House, People’s Community Clinic, School for the Deaf and others. This year we supported Power for Parkinson’s because many older Asian Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

How has the community worked together to give hope to the population you serve? What are some things that give you hope for the health of the population you serve?
We get many phone calls because the Asian community knows we can help them. We received calls with questions like, “I have child with Down’s Syndrome, where can I find resources?” In addition to being a community center, we have also become a reference center for the Asian American community here in Austin. It takes time to establish a trusting relationship and to really let them know that we are here to help. 

 

 

¡Salud es Vida!

An Interview with Natalie Richardson of Ventanilla de Salud

The Latino community represents 17.1 percent of the total US population--making Latinos the nation’s largest ethnic minority. That percentage will only continue to grow. Data from the US Census predicts that Latinos will represent a third of the nation’s population by 2060. Latinos are also the largest minority group in Texas. The make up 38.4 percent of the state’s total population and 33.8 percent of the population here in Travis County.  

This population data doesn’t tell the whole story though. The “Latino Community” is actually an incredibly diverse group. Latinos represent individuals with roots in over 20 countries and countless different cultures and across Latin America and the Caribbean—from Mexico to Argentina, Peru to Puerto Rico and the many nations in between.

Many Latino families have lived in the US for several generations, but many (six percent of the US’s Latino population) are immigrants to this country. In fact, individuals from Latin America make up over half of all foreign-born residents of the US.

Like many immigrant groups from the past and in the present, Latino immigrants often find that making a new home in a new country can be difficult. Language, transportation, financial hardships and acclimating to a new culture are just some of the barriers that immigrants face when they arrive. Those barriers don’t just affect immigrant Latinos though. Many Latinos with deep roots in the United States often encounter many of the same barriers and inequities—from prejudice to poverty.

These barriers often prevent members of the Latino community from accessing vital physical and mental health care services. The fact that in 2012, 29.1 percent of the Latino population did not have access to health insurance illustrates the breadth of the problem. Luckily, there are many individuals working to improve health care access for Latinos here in the US.

Natalie Richardson is one of them. In addition to being a Community Health Worker at Livestrong, she is the director of Ventanilla de Salud, which provides much-needed, culturally appropriate health services, resources and information to immigrants and Latino families in underserved communities around Travis and its surrounding counties. Her job includes community outreach, case management, organizing health fairs and more. Her favorite part of her job is being able to give individuals the exact kind of care they need--from offering a friendly ear to cancer patients and families to playing with kids at farmers markers while teaching their parents about health resources at the same time.

Richardson is half-American and half-Bolivian, and entirely Latina. During her free time she enjoys painting, hiking, camping, dancing, cooking, and spending time with family and friends. We chatted with her about her experiences working with the immigrant and Latino community.

Tell us a about your organization
Ventanilla de Salud helps immigrant families navigate the health care system in the US. Many immigrants pay for medical costs out-of-pocket because most do not have medical insurance. Ventanilla de Salud helps them advocate, understand and navigate the healthcare system.

The Mexican government’s Department of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed and implemented the Ventanilla de Salud program in partnership with local health organizations at 50 Mexican consulates across the United States. The Austin Ventanilla was formed in April 2008 in partnership with Capital Area Health Education Center and Coastal Area Health Education Center. 

What are some of the mental health issues facing the population you represent?
The predominate health issues we see are diabetes, cancer, kidney failure—often coupled with depression.  

Many immigrant families feel on “high alert” all the time, and have tremendous amounts of stress—causing many individuals to experience the signs and symptoms of depression as a result. Children with legal status worry constantly that their parents could be deported at any moment. They’re stressed because of their financial situation or lack of access to appropriate health services.

What are some strategies your organization uses to address those issues?
We try to provide reliable and culturally sensitive information on health topics, counseling and referrals to health services. We partner with local organizations such as El Buen Samaritano, Catholic Charities, Livestrong Foundation and Austin Travis County Integral Care to connect immigrant families to physical and mental health care services. We also have onsite glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol testing and host workshops on nutrition and mental health.

There is a lot of stigma in the Latino community about mental health. It’s not discussed outside the home, or it’s not talked about at all. So instead of using the word “counseling,” we say that it’s like talking to someone they can share their feelings with. We also encourage other forms of therapy like drawing or writing. I worked with one individual who expressed he had always been able to deal with stressors by himself and didn’t want to seek any help. He liked to draw, so we encouraged his hobby as an outlet. 

We also host local outreach during Binational Health Week, the largest health and wellness mobilization effort in the Americas. Communities throughout the US and Canada take part to help promote the health and well-being of underserved Latinos in the two countries.

Why is your mission important to the overall health of the community?
We work with a vulnerable population, and it can be very difficult to encourage them to seek services. Some are reluctant out of fear, and some don’t understand the local resources or even know what’s available to them. We advocate for immigrants, and help them access care—wherever it’s available in the community. It’s also easier to build trust and work with the immigrant and Latino community because we’re a part of the Mexican Consulate.

We seek to reduce or eliminate barriers wherever they exist. For example, finding resources that don’t require citizenship is difficult, and even harder in sparsely populated rural counties. Language is another major barrier. Many doctors don’t speak the immigrant’s native tongue. So even when an immigrant family seeks care, they may not understand what the doctor says. We work with families so they understand instructions and forms, and follow up with medical providers so the individual fully understands their care. 

How has the community worked together to give hope to the population you serve? “What are some things that give you hope for the health of the population you serve?”
Austin is a great city with so many community resources. The providers we’ve worked with have helped us in a very big way to meet the needs of the population we serve. There is much more we can do to help our immigrant and Latino families. But thanks to our partnerships and awareness events like Binational Health Week, we have helped to improve access to culturally sensitive care for the immigrant and Latino community.

Download a pdf copy of this interview here.

For more information or to send us your thoughts, please email communications@atcic.org.

Joint Comission