MHA Partners with Parker Family Health Center to Bring Onsite Bilingual Mental Health Counseling

Parker Family Health Center and Mental Health Association of Monmouth County have partnered to bring mental health counseling to people who may not be able to afford it.

Parker Family Health Center, a volunteer-based, free health care facility, has been offering its services to Monmouth County residents without medical insurance or the ability to pay for more than 20 years. Through this new initiative, bilingual counseling services will be available on site.

“I think that the mental health concerns of particularly marginalized communities and people in need so greatly skyrocketed during the pandemic,” said Wendy DePedro, president and CEO of Mental Health Association of Monmouth County (MHA).

The problems were always there, she points out. “But throughout the pandemic and with all the stressors that people have been experiencing over the course of the last couple of years, the need became even more pronounced,” she said.

The team at Parker Family Health Center realized that there was a strong need for mental health services in the community.

“As a trusted provider, I think that we’ve built up the trust in the community,” said Suzy Dyer, executive director, Parker Family Health Center. “Working together I really think we can get people the help and the services that they need. So there really is a continuum of care that Wendy (DePedro of MHA) and her team is providing that we really did not have.”

As of March 28, a bilingual mental health counselor from MHA will be on site once a week for four hours to meet with children, adolescents and adults. As a specialty service, patients come through referrals from primary care physicians, specialists or social workers. Visits are by appointment only.

“Services for this program, like all of Parker’s services, is free,” said Dyer. “Parker’s funding source is individual donors and grants.” New Jersey’s Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services provides MHA’s funding.

“This is a multilayered process,” said DePedro. “We’ll be providing on-site services initially, but then, moving forward, if there’s a larger need identified, we can potentially add more time on site.”

Counseling services are also available through MHA’s Red Bank Resource Network, a bilingual walk-in community center providing comprehensive health, housing, food, social and financial resources to individuals and families.

Most recent patients who have come to Parker have been children, individuals and even families. Some have come from countries where war is prevalent; some children have experienced trauma.

“They’ve been dealing with stress from so many different levels,” said Dyer. “There’s the social determinants of health and the stress brought on by poverty, but also the stress brought on by immigration. So there are many events and the pandemic added a whole other layer that we had not seen before.”

“We’re meeting patients and we’re addressing their needs on an individual basis,” she said. “Whatever is going to work best for them.”

DePedro and counselors know the need is great right now, as evidenced by the influx of patients at the Red Bank Resource Center. “We’re seeing them more now than when we were in the midst of the pandemic,” she said. “In the early days, people were just in survival mode. Now we’re seeing the fallout… the legal issues, the housing issues, the financial instability. All those things, and certainly this increase in anxiety and depression, particularly with the kids. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in emergency room visits for children. And we’re trying to get them before they end up in emergency situations.”

“I think this is a further example of the importance of mental health and how it intersects with physical health,” said Dyer.