Patients receiving mental health care at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry will soon have support navigating their course of treatment, thanks to a $45,000 grant from Bank of America.
The grant will support one of two patient navigators for Project Apoyo: Patient Navigation for Mental Health, a program created to improve access, engagement and retention in treatment for patients receiving mental health care. Barriers to mental health care include cultural and language barriers, low educational and socioeconomic status, lack of insurance and mental health stigmas.
“Our goal in partnering with TTUHSC El Paso on Project Apoyo is to address disparities in access to mental health treatment and service in our community,” said Kristi Marcum, president of Bank of America El Paso. “This grant will provide dedicated support so that high-risk patients can identify, navigate and ultimately overcome barriers to care. This investment in time and resources to address mental health could not come at a better time as we continue to heal and assess the impacts of the global pandemic and increased mass shootings.”
Eden Hernandez Robles, Ph.D., M.S.W., Project Apoyo program director, said patients receiving mental health care often work with both mental health providers and their primary care physicians, which can be difficult for the patient if the providers don’t communicate well with each other. Dr. Robles is also the director of education and research for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Department of Psychiatry.
“When you have two very complex systems focused on their respective practices, communication is often lost to the detriment of the patient,” Dr. Robles said. “A collaborative care approach using patient navigators will help engage psychiatrists and primary care physicians within the TTP El Paso network, as well as outside health care providers and local agencies.”
The specially trained Project Apoyo patient navigators will guide patients to complete the recommended course of treatment, which is important because patient dropout from mental health services is a widespread problem, severely limiting the effectiveness of treatment. Navigators will also offer patients education on early recognition of symptoms and medication education to improve adherence to their treatment.
As a holistic approach to mental health care, Project Apoyo will engage the many partners who are improving mental health outcomes for patients, and could serve as an intervention model across other communities in the future.
This approach is particularly beneficial in the Borderplex, where the majority Hispanic population faces significant disparities in access to mental health care. There are only five psychiatrists for every 100,000 residents in El Paso, compared to the Texas average of eight and the national average of nine. In Texas, the number of adults with any mental illness reporting an unmet need grew from 19% to 24% in 2019.
“Project Apoyo brings our department the ability to provide essential mental health education and home outreach in the patient’s preferred language,” said Peter Thompson, M.D., M.S., chair of the TTP El Paso Department of Psychiatry. “This is important because there’s a stigma of having mental illness in many Hispanic cultures. If the navigator can provide the education in the patient’s home in Spanish and with their family, we believe the stigma will be reduced.”
“This grant from Bank of America is filling the missing branch that serves the patient and connects them to the medical community as a whole,” Dr. Robles said. “That service encourages them to continue the services they need and impacts their quality of life.”
The Department of Psychiatry is actively seeking additional funds to match the gift from Bank of America and plans to hire two patient navigators as soon as sufficient funds become available.