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Rene Hurtado

Chief of Staff for Emergence Health Network

Understanding Health Disparities in Migrant Communities

August 26, 2019 | Mental Health Treatment | Comments
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From July 23-25, the National Council’s Addressing Health Disparities Leadership Program visited Emergence Health Network, the mental health authority in El Paso, Texas, to explore the needs of local migrant families. In this special blog post, Rene Hurtado (pictured), chief of staff for Emergence Health Network, recounts the experience.

The migrant experience in border communities took center stage during a recent Addressing Health Disparities Leadership Program visit to El Paso, Texas. Emergence Health Network, the local mental health authority, brought together health care leaders and policymakers to brief National Council’s leadership cohort on border health issues, such as service access for the migrant community.

A narration of the local reality was shared: When migrant children reach the U.S./Mexico border after traveling from countries further south, they face separation from parents and siblings, and often find themselves in difficult living conditions. With this understanding, how can the system of care, and the community as a whole, respond to these children and their needs?

In border cities like El Paso, the response is complex. When federal or state resources are not sufficient for the often large number of migrants, local communities also contribute. The challenge for behavioral health agencies is to manage limited resources, while ensuring providers and support personnel are not retraumatizing an already fragile population.

When disenfranchised groups enter our communities, helping hands are extended through faith-based organizations, local nonprofits and individual volunteers. During the National Council’s visit, physician leaders and social services directors shared how children were housed in hotels with local individuals and families delivering food and toys. Another topic of conversation was how, due to the fear of their parents being deported, children with major physical health problems were left alone in hospitals and health centers.

Solutions start with behavioral health professionals folding the appropriate, trauma-informed clinical interventions into these environments. These children are at our doorsteps because some of them faced persecution, as well as physical and mental torture, in their own country. How behavioral health practitioners and their partners overcome cultural, political and language barriers to ensure the best utilization of resources is testament to the vital nature of unified crisis response and follow-up.