by Caryn Hacker-Buechel, ACSW, DCSW
“At the end of every day” began David Lawrence Center’s board certified adult, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Maribel Rivera, “I know I’ve made a difference” in the lives of the underserved migrant farm workers and their families living in the rural community of Immokalee, which sits 30 miles east of Naples. In this community nearly half the residents live below the poverty line and many struggle daily accessing adequate healthcare. Rivera sees children at the Center’s main Naples location off of Golden Gate Parkway and part-time two days a week at their Immokalee satellite services office.
“This isn’t easy work,” she confessed. “The issues these people face are complex and their needs are vast. Immokalee isn’t like Naples.” Without access to adequate treatment, behavioral health problems go undiagnosed or untreated and can affect all aspects of life, be it school, work and/or family.
Recognizing that the most effective plan to foster and ensure the future health of any community is in the early identification and treatment of its most precious citizens, its children, a forward-thinking union was formed in 2013 by the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival.
In this precedent setting new program known as the Children’s Mental Health Initiative, DLC’s Dr. Rivera was teamed up with Immokalee based local mental health hero and PhD psychologist and professor Dr. Javier Rosado, and board certified psychologist Dr. Emily Ptaszek in an effort to design a holistic system of care for children.
NCEF got behind the initiative because “mental health issues cut across all families, all communities,” shared Anne Welsh McNulty, NCEF Board Member and 2014 Festival Co- Chair. “Through strategic and coordinated services, this initiative aims to fundamentally transform and expand mental health care for atrisk children in Collier County.”
Through a special NCEF grant, a team of talented professionals from David Lawrence Center, Florida State University College of Medicine and Healthcare Network of SW
Florida were brought together to fill a significant and important void for the purpose of creating better overall access to mental health care. This program integrates mental health treatment with local pediatric practices and other primary care professionals and strengthens the links among providers such as the school system, social service agencies, health care and community mental health professionals.
“Those who historically have been without support and direction are too often lost in the shuffle of a confusing and intimidating healthcare system.
Frequently, those in need of mental health care aren’t able to follow through on referrals made by their doctor due to unmet basic needs, acute stress, lack of transportation, inability to plan, etc. By integrating behavioral and primary care we make it less threatening to visit with a behavioral health provider directly in the pediatric office where the child/family is already comfortable with their pediatrician,” shares Dr. Ptaszek.
Rivera, Rosado and Ptaszek utilize a team to identify and treat specific varied physical and mental health issues. Beginning in the local pediatrician’s office, where screening occurs, to treatment planning and ultimately carrying out the plan, families are treated to the best of care in a holistic and often bi or tri-lingual environment.
Services can include clinical evaluations, comprehensive psychiatric assessments, medical management, outpatient counseling, family therapy, communitybased therapeutic services, case management and crisis stabilization depending on the severity and complexity of the child’s case.
“I grew up near Plant City, Florida,” commented Dr. Rosado. “I already knew when I accepted this job, with its population focus, that the life of a migrant worker is difficult and the effort would be challenging. I now realize how important it is to understand and respect the lifestyle of the people who live in Immokalee. They are a strong and resilient community,” he shared. “This isn’t a job that most people are willing to do, but my life is richer for knowing these families.”
This effort is unique and offers early detection and treatment for the poorest, underserved children in Collier County. The symbiotic effect of combining resources can only serve to exponentially help these families in need.
“We know that the earlier you indentify a physical or mental health issue and the earlier you treat that issue, the better the prognosis is,” stated David Lawrence Center’s new CEO, Scott Burgess.
This progressive initiative, with the cooperative blending of professional expertise and specialties, is designed to offer integrated care by combining efforts to treat an individual’s mind, as well as his/her body.
At times, the Immokalee families seem distant from our Naples community, and yet they are an integral part of our small city life. Drink our local orange juice and enjoy fresh local vegetables and you can feel the spirits of the hard workers who helped create them. This initiative recognizes their participation and unique hardships, as well as those of their children and families.
Dr. Ptaszek, shares, “Integrated care helps these families overcome barriers to seeking treatment, making prevention and early intervention much more likely. Thanks to this grant, this is not the next generation of healthcare, this is healthcare today right here in Collier County.”
This exceptional program is one of several inventive County-wide initiatives offered in partnership with the David Lawrence Center that blend the talents of other professionals and providers to increase the value and effectiveness of treatment. The ability to look beyond your borders in the name of concern is a highly evolved concept. Through the initiative, the partners have also worked closely with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to reduce and eliminate duplication of services, maximize resources and increase the availability of high quality best practice approaches. The Center also pairs with schools, sheriff’s departments, hospitals and other intervention programs to effectively treat our local and extended community.
For more information about the Children’s Mental Health Initiative or other services provided by the David Lawrence Center, call 239.455.8500 or visit DavidLawrenceCenter.org.
Caryn Hacker-Buechel, ACSW, DCSW, is a mental health advocate,
freelance writer and David Lawrence Center board member. She worked
as a children’s psychotherapist for more than 25 years and is the author of
a children’s book and parent/teacher guide about bullying called “A Bully
Grows Up: Erik Meets the Wizard.”