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At mental health agency, patients outstrip available funding

Los Angeles County funds much of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services' operational costs and most clients pay little or nothing for their services.

April 08, 2012|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

A mental health agency that services clients throughout the Southland has experienced a deluge of clients in Glendale since opening here last summer, far outpacing its 10 other locations in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

“We realized there was a need, because there is not a comparable agency providing mental health facilities for children and adults, but we had no idea how pent up the need was,” said Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services President Kita Curry.

Since opening in May 2011, the nonprofit has seen about 50% more people in Glendale than Didi Hirsch's next largest site in Inglewood. On any given day, the agency may have between 10 to 30 requests for service, which astounded the staff, Curry said.

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“We wouldn't have expected it to be the largest, in terms of enrolling,” she said, noting that when Didi Hirsch came to Glendale, officials knew it was a risk.

The nonprofit took over Verdugo Mental Health at 1540 E. Colorado Street after the clinic fell into financial trouble. In 2005 and 2007, Verdugo borrowed more than $6 million to expand, but surging construction costs and low revenue pushed the organization to the financial brink. It was then that Didi Hirsch proposed paying $5 million of the $5.6 million owed to Verdugo Mental Health's creditors.

Because of its financial woes, Verdugo couldn't offer the same array of services that Didi Hirsch does. Instead, many patients were put on medication. Being dependent on prescriptions may lead to more doctor visits, Curry said.

“When you have to choose between something or nothing, [you choose] medication,” she said. “Just from an economic point of view, it seems they couldn't afford a lot more.”

Didi Hirsch's extensive outreach has also attributed to the spike. Its relationships with Armenian groups and organizations that work with the elderly and homeless have boosted enrollment in a community where stigmas regarding mental health treatment are prevalent.

Didi Hirsch also expanded services available to the homeless here and often sends staff members out to visit and assist local transients. Many are slow to warm to the idea of getting mental health help, Curry said.

Los Angeles County funds much of Didi Hirsch's operational costs and most clients pay little or nothing for their services. The funding comes in 12-month installments, but with three months still left in the fiscal year, the current round is running out.

Curry expects to get the same amount of money from the county next year, but every year is a gamble, since funding depends on sales taxes and other revenue. The nonprofit will also have to analyze how it distributes its money so it can allocate according to the programs Glendale patients use the most.

“We don't have to worry whether there are enough people to provide all the services we have funding for,” Curry said. “We have to worry about getting more funding. That's, in a sense, very promising.”

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