At the North Charlotte Health Clinic, staff are training to serve the immigrant community. This may mean speaking a common language or adopting a culturally informed approach.

This means reaching clients who may struggle to find adequate service elsewhere.

Dr. Carolina Benitez directs the behavioral health program at Camino Health Center. Many of her department’s clients are new to the Charlotte area. Therefore, his work often focuses on helping people adapt to the community.

“With relocation comes many challenges. Even consider moving within the United States. And in this case we are working with a community of immigrants from different countries in Latin America, even sometimes in parts of Europe,” he said.

For this population, accessing health services can be difficult. Language is a barrier.

Spanish-language mental health services have declined as North Carolina’s Latino population has grown.

A study by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences found that the percentage of North Carolina mental health facilities with services in Spanish decreased between 2014 and 2019.

For every 100,000 Latino residents, North Carolina had 6.4 facilities with Spanish-language services. This compares to a high 47.2 favorability in Vermont and a low 2.1 in Texas. North Carolina is ranked 39th nationally.

“We recognized that there was this need, that there was this void in the spectrum of services that were offered in the state and even just in the city,” Benitez said. “It’s not easy to find services where you’re working with someone from your same culture. It’s not easy to get service with someone who speaks your language.”


Kayla Young


WFAE/The News

Camino Health Center offers a variety of services, including mental health care.

In Mecklenburg County, more than 124,000 people speak Spanish at home, according to census data. More than half of them, 66,000 of them, say they don’t speak English very well. That’s about 6% of the county’s population, and a population Camino aims to serve with low-cost healthcare.

“Suddenly you’re sitting next to someone who understands a little bit of your story, who understands what the values ​​are that are important to you as a person and to your family,” Benitez said.

That connection can be strong, and it can affect whether people return and seek services.

“You start seeing more and more referrals. So, instead of people being referred by a medical provider, being referred by social services, being referred by the school, people are coming in on their own and saying, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this. Can you help me?’ Can you help?'” Benitez said.

Community-based support

Camino offers three areas of behavioral health services. There are individual and group therapy services. The clinic held around 1,600 counseling sessions last year.

Then there are peer support and social navigation services, both of which take a community-based approach to health.

David Villanueva is one of Camino’s Peer Support Specialists. Her job is, in a way, to be a companion and counselor to people with substance abuse disorders.

“A major part of my training actually comes from my lived experience. I have my own history of substance and alcohol-use disorders. And today I’m a person in recovery,” Villanueva said. “I use it in combination with my education and other specialized training that I’ve had.”

Her cultural background as a Guatemalan-American helped Villanueva connect with and understand other peers on the Camino. But he also took on the challenge of honing his cultural skills.

“Being a Guatemalan person is a little different from being a Latino from the Caribbean or South America.” “Part of the training is being exposed to the different types of people who work on the Camino and the people we serve. It gives me the opportunity to learn from their experiences and then be able to apply that back to the community.”

Social navigation manager Maria Monachesi, originally from Argentina, said the clinic noticed a difference between the needs of established immigrant residents and the needs of newcomers. For those who have recently arrived, their most urgent need may be housing, for example, and Monachesi can help with that search. But there are urgent medical needs.

Many families come with high levels of trauma that require immediate mental health support such as counseling or psychiatry, Monachesi said, and many people indicate they’ve never had a health check before.

“We support them through the process. We don’t expect individuals who have experienced some kind of trauma to just move on by themselves,” Monachesi said. “We want to be with them during that process to provide them with the services they need. And the ultimate goal is to change their lives.”

Carolina Benitez, Camino Health Center.jpeg

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Camino Health Center

Dr. Carolina Benitez leads Camino Contigo, the mental health department at Camino Health Clinic.

One of Benitez’s main goals is to train more people like Villanueva and Monachesi to serve the Spanish-speaking community.

“Part of the work we do is actually training student interns from different schools to provide services to the Hispanic community in culturally appropriate ways. “Some of the students who came here for training were not Hispanic, not Spanish speakers,” Benitez said. “So, we trained them to work with interpreters, and we trained them to consider family values ​​when working cross-culturally.”

He says he wants to see more investment in training Latino youth to pursue careers in health.

“Hispanic families value education. They want their children to go to school,” he said. “Get over it, right?

Latino parents want to see their children overcome obstacles and reach high goals, she said. That is why, after all, that many families immigrate.

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