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NMSU College of Education and La Clinica de Familia partner to provide holistic health services in Dona Ana County

The New Mexico State University College of Education is partnering with La Clinica de Familia to provide mental health care to underserved patients and training future psychologists in the process.

Three people standing in a clinic hallway looking at a computer.
Daubney Harper, center, a New Mexico State University College of Education college assistant professor, works with David Rivera and Josie Rodriguez, colleagues at La Clinica de Familia. (NMSU photo by Julie M. Hughes)
Three women in a clinic exam room reviewing files on a lap top.
Ana Laura James, from left, a doctoral student in the College of Education’s counseling psychology program, reviews files with Counseling and Educational Psychology faculty Daubney Harper and Jo Velasquez. (NMSU photo by Julie M. Hughes)

Counseling and Educational Psychology graduate students get the opportunity to work in clinics across Dona Ana County to focus, not just on mental health, but also primary care psychology, said Daubney Harper, a college assistant professor. She is one of two faculty members who have a split appointment between NMSU and La Clinica as part of the partnership.

Harper said the counseling psychology doctoral program has a focus on primary care so it is a natural fit to be in primary care clinics working side-by-side with health care teams.

“Primary care is a little different. We talk about behavioral change, we talk about healthy living that can really affect health outcomes of patients, so we shift the focus to better health care outcomes,” Harper said. “For example, we know diabetes is mostly effected by behavior – what you eat, when you take your medication, how much you exercise – those things greatly impact health and life. Our students are really shifting to look at health and how psychological well-being and daily behaviors can impact the whole person. We think interdisciplinary care is the best form of care.”

Another component of the partnership is the participation of post-doctoral students that are part of NMSU’s Psychopharmacology Program, a post-doctoral master’s in the study of prescription medication used in behavioral health.

“It is a phenomenal experience for us to be with La Clinica de Familia because we get exposed to a range of conditions, of behavioral health presentation, different ages – from little children to seniors, men/women, across all diverse cultural groups, languages, ethnicities. It’s a very rich experience for us to be trained here,” said Jo Velasquez, a college associate professor and coordinator of the Psychopharmacology Program, who also has a spilt appointment between NMSU and La Clinica.

Velasquez emphasized the value to the community as well.

“It really grants access to populations that wouldn’t otherwise have access to medications and a specialty in behavioral health. There is a tremendous need for behavioral health services in our state and throughout the country. We are well trained and specialized so we step in to fill that need,” she said.

La Clinica de Familia is a federally qualified health center with 10 clinics in Dona Ana County, three of which are school-based health centers. The partnership allowed the psychologists and their students to reach more than a 1,000 patients in the first year and patients felt better supported by their clinics, Harper said.

NMSU counseling students really welcome the opportunity to work at the clinic.

“Having the opportunity to be in a setting like this has given me the opportunity to work with other health professionals, learning how to communicate with doctors, nurses, social workers and promotoras to help the clients and patients,” said Ana Laura James, an NMSU counseling psychology doctoral student. “I would like to stay along the border and work with people providing bilingual services in a primary care setting where the use of behavioral health interventions are highly beneficial.”

“NMSU is really about the people, wanting to bring what we know back to the community, always encouraging providers to stay in the community, so this is really focused on providing services that are needed,” Harper said. “Why wouldn’t we put our students into the community to serve?”

The benefit to the underserved patients of Dona Ana County is critical to La Clinica de Familia administrators as well.

“The partnership between NMSU and La Clinica de Familia has positively impacted our patient population,” said David Rivera, clinic administrator for La Clinica de Familia. “Having integrated services means that a patient can be referred to a behavioral counselor by a medical provider; on the same day and at the same clinic. Not only are the physical components of an illness addressed, but also the psychological ones.”

Rivera said interdisciplinary providers have more direct and meaningful communication regarding the patient’s plan of care.

“The patient receives better coordinated care and many of the barriers to care disappear. I have seen the patients become motivated about their self-management goals. This partnership has opened our eyes to a holistic approach to treating our patients,” Rivera said.