Kern County kicks off Binational Health Week; taskforce to focus on mental health services and Medi-Cal expansion

October 11, 2019 /

Kern County’s Binational Health Week Taskforce kicked off its 15th annual Binational Health Week Friday with the 2019 opening press conference at Mercy Hospital.

The mission of the Binational Health Week Taskforce is to educate under served communities about health care services and to expand access to healthcare by delivering key messages to the Latino migrant community.

“We will continue to work hard to reach the most vulnerable communities,” BHW Taskforce co-chair Nora Garza said at the press conference regarding their efforts.

Federal, state and local government agencies, community-based organization and volunteers are working together throughout October to conduct a series of health promotion and health education activities including workshops, insurance referrals, vaccines and medical screenings, according to Juan Vega, the co-chair of the taskforce.

This year, the taskforce decided to focus on the importance of mental health services and Medi-Cal expansion for the Latino migrant community.

Ines DelAlto, a licensed clinical social worker with Clinica Sierra Vista, spoke of the many barriers the Latino population faces in her line of work when it comes to mental health services.

She said there seems to be a lack of information about the mental health services available, sometimes a language barrier, misconceptions of mental health, lack of insurance and financial resources, and fear of exposing their legal status, according to DelAlto.

Approximately 33 percent of Latino adults receive mental health treatment each year compared to the average population of 43 percent, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“That’s a lot of disparities in terms of mental health services access to the Latino community,” DelAlto said of the statistic.

The taskforce will also educate the Latino community on the Medi-Cal expansion, which will include mental health services. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, undocumented adults in California will be covered by Medi-Cal, according to the Department of Human Services. This expansion will affect nearly 67,000 individuals across the state, according to DHS.

Throughout the month of October, the taskforce will hold events covering relevant topics to the health, including mental health, infectious diseases, chronic diseases, access to health insurance, women’s health and occupational health.

Mayor Karen Goh said at the press conference, “It is in our coming together that we can truly address the health challenges of our community and serve the most vulnerable and those that are most under served.”

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at