March 2, 2001


Senior Community Centers Receives Funding to Create Mental Health Program

Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency helping low-income seniors in San Diego, has received a $667,800 grant from The California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation, to create the Cross Cultural Senior Mental Health (CCSMH) program. This program was one of 46 funded through The Endowment's Special Opportunity in Mental Health Funding Request for Proposals (RFP).

The most prominent mental illness conditions Senior Community Centers' clients face are dementia, depression and anxiety. Approximately one-third of the 5,000 seniors the organization serves each year suffer from mental illness.

Under the program, two psychiatric nurses will be placed at Senior Community Centers to assist seniors who are showing signs of mental illness. These nurses will help diagnose problems, provide counseling and work with a psychiatrist who will provide consultation, education and direct services to clients.

"What is really exciting about this grant is that it allows for the creation of comprehensive mental health services in a senior center environment," said Paul Downey, president and CEO of Senior Community Centers. "This simple innovation allows us to fill a major gap in the safety net for seniors living in poverty in downtown San Diego."

Another unique aspect of this program, according to Downey, is its focus on providing services in a culturally sensitive manner. Over 60 percent of the seniors served by the agency are minority—primarily Asian, Latino and African American. He said that quite often cultural and language barriers prevent minority seniors from accessing needed mental health services. Senior Community Centers is committed to developing a program —including the hiring of bicultural and bilingual staff—that can provide linguistically and culturally competent services to these populations.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 15 to 20 percent of persons over age 60 require some form of mental health services. These numbers will only get larger as the senior population is expected to soar in the next few decades.

The Sharp Healthcare Foundation has agreed to collaborate with Senior Community Centers on the program. The Foundation will assist with the provision of some psychiatric services in conjunction with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.

"Despite California's commitment to mental health system reform, individuals throughout the state continue to face many challenges in accessing services," stated Robert K. Rodd, M.D., president and CEO of The California Endowment. "Through this Mental Health RFP process, The Endowment is hoping to learn the best mental health practices to better target our future grant-making strategies."

Senior Community Centers is a non-profit, social service agency that provides low-income seniors with meals, social and medical services, homeless and housing assistance, cultural activities and now mental health services. For more information on Senior Community Centers visit www.servingseniors.org or call (619) 235-6572.

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