The need for therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists is greater than ever. Under relentless pressure from the pandemic and inflation, wildfires and gun violence, racism and war, our communities are crying out for help.
Fortunately, we have two local leaders who are determined to move mountains. Aaron Ortiz, CEO of La Familia, and Manuel Jimenez, Regional Director of La Familia, are committed to providing much-needed mental health care and solutions to our underserved communities. Under their leadership, La Familia works with the community to provide free, quality support services to low-income residents in the communities they serve.
In August 2022, La Familia Central Valley was made possible by the merger between La Familia and the First Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (First Behavioral). Although the Turlock-based non-profit has only been around since July 2020 (founded by Legacy Health Endowment), they have been committed to serving the mental health needs of the Central Valley at a particularly critical time.
Ortiz and Jimenez continue to work tirelessly to ensure that mental health care is never out of reach for members of the Central Valley community. Providing linguistically appropriate and culturally relevant services has been a priority in hiring bilingual and multilingual clinicians. To reduce transportation challenges and increase accessibility, they partner with local school districts to provide on-site school counseling services, provide telehealth visits, and make psychiatric services available for medication management. Considering these characteristics illustrates the team’s commitment to providing high-quality care that is accessible to all who seek it, especially those who often face barriers related to financial, transportation and language limitations.
La Familia is making a huge impact on our communities by providing mental health services in schools – a place where children already gather – and it makes sense. It has implications for substance use disorders, school violence, and other societal problems. Yet many rural school districts have barely a school nurse and no mental health therapist. Jimenez and Ortiz are paving the way for mental health care in our rural communities with evidence-based outcomes.
Ortiz has dedicated his career to helping youth, adults and families in the San Francisco Bay Area by providing accessible public health, education, workforce development, youth development, mental health, family preservation and culturally competent programs. His career started at La Familia, where he worked as a youth mentor from 1992-1997. Ortiz also served on the board of La Familia for 14 years and chaired the board for two years. From 1997-2014 he held other jobs and became executive director of La Familia in July 2014. programs. Since becoming La Familia’s CEO, Ortiz has successfully transformed La Familia from a small, community-based organization (CBO) to a full-fledged CBO by transforming five times the agency budget in four years to a workforce of 200.
Jimenez Jr., MA, LMFT, began his career by leading a group to help substance abusers and veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Realizing that the group was proving successful and making a difference in their lives, he enrolled at Santa Clara University. After graduation, he worked at Santa Cruz County Children’s Mental Health before leading community programs for El Dorado County. Later in his career, he became director of behavioral health in Alameda County, from where he would retire and start a private practice in Turlock after realizing there was a barrier to accessing mental health providers.
Legacy Health Endowment invests in people and non-profit organizations. We want to ensure that every young person in the Central Valley not only has equal access to education, but also equal access to health care. And that’s the critical impact that we hope to make with regard to behavioral health, because we know that their first teachers are their parents.
We are working hard to expand more services for children and young people. Through the work of Ortiz, Jimenez and their team, we’ve noticed that more Hispanic families are encouraging children to talk to a mental health professional, and we know we’re making a difference in their lives. We want to create more access because of an unmet need, especially in the Latino community. Many of the parents we work with are first-generation immigrants who lack the resources and work one or two jobs. As much as we want to help the children, it is essential to work with the parents and relatives who are suffering in silence. It all has a direct impact on the whole family.
Ortiz and Jimenez make a difference in the lives of children, adolescents and adults every day. Their leadership is invaluable. Their inspiration is contagious. I am proud to honor two fantastic healthcare heroes.
— Jeffrey Lewis is the president and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment and the EMC Health Foundation. The opinions expressed are his own.