By Kira Cordova

Photo: Alex Pedersen

This story is part two in an ongoing series exploring systemic barriers to mental health care present within Gunnison’s Spanish speaking and Cora community. Part one can be found HERE.

Reporter’s Note: The word Hispanic refers to ethnicity and is separate from race. The US Census Bureau did not include it on the census until 1976. The term is controversial, with many pointing out that it generalizes many diverse communities and has etymological ties to Spanish colonialism.

While other descriptors can be more accurate, because the data we have utilizes census information, and therefore the word Hispanic, it’s included in this article and the subsequent about Spanish and Cora language behavioral and mental health resources in the valley.

In a previous mental health series article, we explored the systemic problems (including linguistic isolation) that often compound to worsen the mental health crisis for Hispanic Gunnison community members. But what mental and behavioral health resources are available to Spanish and Cora speakers in the valley?

9.5% of Gunnison residents speak a language other than English at home, and 10.2% of Gunnison households are linguistically isolated (a term used by the Census Bureau to describe households whose members speak limited English). These residents are likely to speak Spanish or Cora (and possibly both); however, there are few bicultural and bilingual providers in the valley, and Spanish speakers face barriers to accessing existing resources.

The Center for Mental Health (which currently runs the Western Counseling Center in Crystal Hall) has a bilingual (English-Spanish) translator on staff in its location outside of the university and two language line services for in-session translation, according to Community Relations Liaison Paul W. Reich.

Western’s on campus counseling center. Photo: Alex Pedersen

Reich says, “we are always on the lookout for Spanish language providers, ideally those who are bilingual and bicultural, but Colorado as a whole is lacking Spanish speaking behavioral health professionals.” In Crystal Hall, there are currently no bilingual providers, but Reich says that Jared, the “primary clinician there, can utilize translators or the language line as required.”

Gunnison Valley Health (GVH) also provides Behavioral Health services in the valley, including outpatient, peer support, mobile crisis, and school and jail-based services in Gunnison and Crested Butte. According to Director of Behavioral Health Kimberly Behounek, “GVH offers all behavioral health services via a translation service,” including “psychiatric medication management, counseling and peer support as well as mobile crisis services.”

Despite efforts to hire bilingual providers, Behounek says that Behavioral Health at GVH does not currently employ any bilingual clinicians. Behounek also says that while peer-support specialists at GVH come from diverse lineages, “their attitudes and customs do not meet the definition of bi-cultural.”

According to Behounek, to provide services to non-English speaking Gunnison residents, providers can apply for an interpreter, and although GVH refers patients to behavioral health facilities outside of the Gunnison valley, they “do not have bilingual behavioral health facilities in other communities that [they refer] to.” Behouk affirms, “the simple answer” to why GVH non-English speaking community members face a lack of accessible support resources “is lack of options and other barriers.”

GVH partners with Front Range Clinic “to deliver a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program for individuals seeking to recover from addiction” locally without a referral, and Behounek says that “Front Range Clinic offers Spanish speaking prescribers.”

Gunnison County Health and Human Services also coordinates matching Gunnison community members with resources. Multicultural Resource Coordinator Yazmin Molina says that they “take each client case by case,” depending on the client’s needs.

Molina says “there are therapists in town who do speak Spanish, but they are super busy.” Health and Human Services is familiar with mental health interpreting; Mayte Burton, one of Health and Human Services’ Health Navigators (who help clients access resources), interprets in Spanish for the Center for Mental Health as well.

Molina affirms that there are Spanish-language resources available through Juvenile Services, and that, “depending on the situation, Project Hope might be able to step in and give us more resources or take on the case.” 

According to Marisela Ballesteros, Project Hope Office Manager, “Project Hope provides resources for traditional therapy as well as alternative therapy for those who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking (DV, SA, HT). We also have connections with CB State of Mind and Crested Butte Youth Wellness for teenagers who have experienced DV, SA and HT.”

They also work with Health and Human Services to help match people with resources Project Hope doesn’t provide.

Ballesteros said that all Project Hope team members are “trauma informed and help clients define healthy relationships versus unhealthy and abusive relationships” and can “help clients build safety plans and plans for empowerment to independence.”

Project Hope provides services for both Spanish and Cora speakers. Ballesteros affirmed, “our Office Manager was a Latinx Advocate and has worked with past and existing clients that speak both languages as well as those who come from other Latin countries other than Mexico. We provide the same services for them, unfortunately the language barrier and our location sometimes hinder [the] amount of resources we are able to provide.”

Project Hope also provides alternative therapy resources. Ballesteros said, “We work with therapists who practice reiki, transformative therapy, light energy work, massage therapy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy and H2O facial/Bemer Therapy” and that many clients “become excited that there are other forms of therapy other than the traditional route.”

Project Hope is able to provide six sessions of each (traditional and alternative therapy) for every client. Speaking to which of these resources are available in Spanish, Ballesteros said, “we have two therapists who offer traditional therapy and one who offers hypnotherapy services [in Spanish].”

Molina affirmed, “Gunnison is full of resources, the problem is that when promoting it, it is usually not in Spanish,” which “makes it very difficult for our Spanish community to hear and utilize the resources around us.”

According to Molina, Gunnison also has “about 10 community members who are currently about to wrap up their medical interpreting training, and will be able to volunteer to those who need interpreting services” and that Health and Human Services hopes will help to make sure an interpreter is always available. These community members completed training through the Denver company Professional Interpreting, which follows the Spring Institute interpreter training.

Ideally, Molina and Health and Human Services would like Gunnison providers and businesses to “realize that having an interpreter/bilingual team member will open up the doors to serve the Spanish community.”

The Cora community in Gunnison is likely the largest outside of Mexico, yet resources available in Cora are limited. According to Magdaleno Diáz, a Gunnison Cora community leader, this resource gap has included a lack of information about COVID and services to help community members struggling to afford rent and food.

Behounek said that Cora was not included among the available languages at the time GVH set up their translation service. However, GVH’s behavioral health team “is in the process of setting up a medical services interpreter contract with local Spanish and Cora speaking individuals.”

Molina said, “there are no Cora providers in Gunnison, or even in Colorado as far as I know.” Two of the 10 Gunnison community members that just completed medical interpreting training are Cora speakers, however, and Molina noted, “Most Cora speakers also know Spanish and are fine using a Spanish interpreter.”

Molina recommends community members seeking mental health resources in Spanish or Cora, including Western students, to reach out to Health and Human Services Multicultural Services at (970) 641-3244.