Local clinics collaborate to provide ESL residents with mental health care

The need for bilingual healthcare

Due to high premiums and insurance costs, it can be difficult for those in need of mental healthcare to get the care that they need. In areas with large amounts of non-English speakers, language barriers can also contribute to these difficulties.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year, and in 2015, Hispanics and Latinos made up 10.6 percent of the Athens-Clarke County population.

Finding mental health care for non-English speakers

The Athens Nurses Clinic, a local clinic that offers free healthcare to low-income families in Athens and the surrounding area, currently partners with Advantage Behavioral Health, as well as the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services (ALCES) and other clinics, to ensure that these individuals receive the mental health care that they need.

The clinic sees about 1,700 patients on a regular basis, 12 to 15 percent of whom are Hispanic.

The Athens Nurses Clinic currently has 22 full-time and part time staff members, including 3 Nurse Practitioners. The clinic also welcomes volunteers, including six dentists and dental hygienists and about 15 students from the University of Georgia’s college of public health, and the college of family and consumer sciences.

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The Athens Nurses Clinic is located on North Avenue in the ARCH complex. The building is also home to other community healthcare resources such as Live Forward and Advantage Behavioral Health.

The clinic is located in the ARCH complex on North Avenue. Its neighbors are the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, the Athens Homeless Day Service Center, Live Forward (previously known as AIDS Athens) and Advantage Behavioral Health. They all work together to provide homeless and low-income individuals with free physical and mental health care.

“We all provide some collaborative care, so if I have a client that has some mental health issues, I’ve got a counselor downstairs. I can get them right in,” said Paige Cummings, who started as a volunteer at the clinic in 2004 and is currently the executive director.

“If someone comes in and as we’re working with them, it’s clear that they’re severely depressed about something, or they’re having some situational anxiety, we call downstairs to Tracy, the therapist who works in the office for mental health,” said Cummings.

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Paige Cummings, executive director of the Athens Nurses Clinic.

Qualifications to be a patient at safety net clinics

In order to be seen at the clinic, patients must have a household income that is 150 percent below the federal poverty line. They cannot have insurance.

They have their own pharmacy, and their services include visits with Nurse Practitioners, lab work, getting medications as well as disease management education, or providing those who have diabetes or high blood pressure with the tools to manage them.

Bilingual healthcare workers 

To better serve its Hispanic patient population, the clinic has four bilingual staff members, one of whom is Annabella Uhde. Uhde was originally hired as a Spanish interpreter working between six to eight hours a week, but is now the full-time interpreter and office administrator.

Uhde sits in on doctor’s visits and translates for patients who are non-English speakers, most of whom are Mexicans.

“Of our population of Hispanics, I would say 95 percent are Mexicans,” Uhde said.

She said the number of Hispanic patients that the clinic sees has grown since they relocated to the ARCH complex in April 2016. Uhde thinks that this is due to word-of-mouth, and said that many of her patients live in the Pine Wood Estates trailer park and talk to one another about the clinic.

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Annabella Uhde is the interpreter and office administrator at the clinic, and translates for ESL patients.

The clinic also has an outreach coordinator named Sofia Gattie who goes to local neighborhoods, businesses, the library, and the soup kitchen to spread the word about the services they offer. Gattie speaks Spanish and visits the Pendergrass Flea Market about 30 minutes away where there are lots of Spanish-speaking residents.

Holly Marbut is a Nurse Practitioner at the Nurses Clinic and speaks little Spanish, but often sees Hispanic patients either by herself or when Uhde can sit in and interpret.

For psychiatric needs, Marbut refers her patients to Advantage because it’s both convenient and they offer a wide-range of services to those from low-income households.

“Mental health is really tough, getting people the resources they need, unfortunately.”

“Advantage is probably the biggest resource we have in our community for mental health if they don’t have insurance,” Marbut said.

For counseling, they also send patients to a caseworker at Live Forward, as well as Samaritan Counseling, another safety net clinic serving the Athens area that has two bilingual counselors.

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Uhde (left) and Nurse Practitioner Holly Marbut (right) talk to Maria Ibarra about her high blood pressure and medications.

Other resources for bilingual mental healthcare

The Nurses Clinic also refers Spanish-speaking patients with mental health needs to ALCES, which offers counseling services through the BIEN Counseling Group. BIEN is a group of masters and doctoral students in the Counseling Psychology program at UGA supervised by their professor, Dr. Edward Delgado-Romero.

Dr. Delgado-Romero and some of the students who work for BIEN are bilingual and bicultural.

“The fees for the services are based on the clients’ incomes, and no one is turned away because they can’t pay,” said Susan Wilson, the center director at ALCES.

Funded by grants and donations, the Athens Nurses Clinic is the only free clinic in the area to accept walk-ins. In February 2016, they received a grant from The Georgia Baptist Health Ministries that allowed them to open a walk-in clinic five days a week.

“We’re here to keep patients out of emergency rooms. We’re here to provide long-term continuity of family health care to clients,” Cummings said.

To learn more about the Athens Nurses Clinic, or to volunteer there, visit http://athensnursesclinic.org/wp/.

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