Mental health program launched

Lutheran Community Services offers help to low-income residents

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Mental Health Program

Lutheran Community Services NW

• 3600 Main St., Vancouver.

• Call: 360-694-5624 ext. 37.

• Online: Visit LCS website.

Lutheran Community Services Northwest has been a "community secret" for too long, according to former official and continuing booster Ed Cote. That's changing now, if the crowd that turned out Wednesday to celebrate LCS's latest venture is any indication.

The Vancouver office of Lutheran Community Services has opened its first mental health program for low-income Medicaid patients and people who have no health insurance. The small downstairs meeting room at LCS's office at 3600 Main St. was packed with people Wednesday as the agency announced the new venture.

"Behavioral health is one of our strongest programs" at other LCS offices, according to regional director Salah Ansary. There are 11 such offices in Washington, Oregon and Idaho already. "Finally, we are able to open a program for outpatient mental health in Vancouver," he said.

LCS's counselors will see clients at the Main Street office, but they'll also be mobile, traveling to clients' homes and other meeting places if need be. "We have the capacity to see people very quickly. We will go where we are needed," Cote said.

Cote said the effort began a couple years ago, with the sense that Clark County wasn't doing all it could to address mental health needs. "We felt this is such a critical need in this community," he said.

Many need attention

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four adults, or nearly 58 million Americans, experience a mental health disorder in a given year. In Clark County, a public health survey published in 2010 said that 10 percent of all adults reported "poor emotional health" for at least two weeks out of one month in 2008. The same survey found that 28 percent of 10th-graders reported being depressed during the past year.

The new program at Lutheran Community Services is aimed at adults only, according to lead clinician Heather Sutch. She said the small staff includes one Russian-speaking therapist.

That's because Lutheran Community Services has such strong ties to the local refugee population, according to Ansary. The nearly 90-year-old nonprofit agency opened its Vancouver office in 1995 with a strong mandate from the U.S. State Department to focus on refugee resettlement. It offers an array of services aimed at new arrivals on our shores: English and naturalization classes, immigration counseling and legal help, employment match-ups and elder refugee "empowerment" through classes and social hours.

"We started at the height of the Russian migration here," said Ansary, and services were designed with those folks in mind. But starting a couple of years ago, LCS in Vancouver decided to broaden its scope and reposition itself as a more general human-service agency "to better meet the needs of the average Clark County resident," according to its website. One step in that direction was a Crime Victims Advocacy program, launched in the summer of 2011.

But, with Clark County's mental health needs expanding and the Affordable Care Act opening up more mental health benefits to more low-income people, LCS got into discussions with the county and its primary mental-health contractor, Southwest Washington Behavioral Health, and came away with a contract for services.

"We felt a strong need to move into providing mental health services, not just refugee services," Ansary said. It's a natural overlap for LCS, he said, since resettled refugees are often people who have endured nearly unfathomable stress and loss, and can use mental health help.

"There has been a long discussion here in Southwest Washington" about the need for more mental health services, said Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt. The new LCS program "is helping to fill the gap and tie the community closer together."

Incidentally, despite its name, Lutheran Community Services is open to everyone; its overall mission is faith-based but it does not discriminate based on religious beliefs (or lack thereof).