Golden Rule Spring 2024

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Issue: 05 PERINATAL MENTAL HEALTH Vital for Mom & Baby HEALTH EQUITY Moving Forward FINANCIAL LITERACY Tools for Success Spring 2024

Message from the Leadership

Welcome to the Spring 2024 issue of The Golden Rule, the magazine dedicated to Hoag’s Community Benefit initiatives at the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living.

This issue highlights our latest efforts at the Center, beginning with a focus on mental health and the alarming statistic that almost a quarter of all Americans struggle with mental health issues. And those struggles don’t just impact an individual’s daily life — they have a ripple effect across the family unit.

We feature the Community Nurse Navigation Program, created to help meet the health care needs of our underresourced and senior populations by providing care coordination and education for chronic disease prevention and management.

The Center is fortunate to collaborate and partner with many local nonprofits who share in our mission for better health outcomes for the underserved community. We spotlight four such partners in this issue: Cancer Kinship, an Orange County nonprofit focused on empowering Spanish speaking women facing cancer through support and education; Be Well OC, an organization that provides a mobile response to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis; the National Alliance on Mental Illness Orange County (NAMI OC), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization.

Featuring NAMI Connects peer support program; and OC United Way’s SparkPoint and OC Free Tax Prep programs that focus on helping low-income residents build long term financial stability.

The Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living enters its eighth year under new leadership. We are honored to have been named co-principals of the Center, together representing more than 36 years of combined experience. As always, our goal remains steadfast: to serve our community in the most strategic and effective way possible. And thanks to the generosity of our donors, community partners, and Hoag leadership, we have been able to do just that.

Many thanks for your continued support.

With deepest gratitude,




Meet the principals of the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living, Rocio Valencia-Vega and Minzah Malik.


Each day, almost a quarter of all Americans struggle with mental health issues. And those struggles don’t just impact an individual’s daily life.


Addressing the number one health complication associated with giving birth, the Center is focused on supporting good perinatal mental health.



The Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living is committed to solving issues of health inequity in the local community and is actively leading by example.


Cancer Kinship is a non profit focused on empowering women facing cancer through support and education.


Be Well is a mobile response team available for Center clients experiencing a crisis. The Be Well team collaborates with nurse navigators, therapists and case managers.


Since 2018, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been a partner organization providing peer support resources and education to the community.


Financial coaching program helping lowincome residents build long term financial stability.


As Case Manager at SparkPoint OC Financial, Nancy provides oneon-one coaching and guidance on identifying a client’s financial goals.


Focus on Mental Health

Uniting to Ensure Optimal Mental Health and Wellness for All

Hoag’s Mental Health Center at the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living recognizes the importance of mental wellbeing, and has deeply invested in a variety of mental health support services to strengthen its offerings. The Center offers free psychotherapy services to the low-income and underinsured community, providing support to those individuals and families who might not otherwise receive help.

The Center’s team, staffed by thirteen clinical social workers, two social worker assistants, and one part-time psychiatrist, works to break down social stigmas about mental health, helping patients understand that the challenges they face often have solutions. However, when a more urgent situation arises Be Well OC, a new partner stands by ready to help.

1 in 5 U.S. Adults experience mental illness each year

Source: experience serious mental illness each year 1 in 20 U.S. Adults aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year 1 in 6 youth by age 14 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 24 and 75% 10 - 14 Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged

By extending services directly to the community, we can better coordinate with partners like the Center to promote optimal mental health and wellness for all Orange County residents, regardless of their ability to pay. “

Be Well

Stronger as a Team

An important component of the team’s care is coordinating support from — and links to — community partners such as Be Well OC, a critical provider in Orange County’s mental health continuum of care.

“Our team is excited to be working with the staff at the Center to build a more compassionate and comprehensive system of behavioral and mental health care for individuals who need non-emergency crisis stabilization, mental health or substance use disorder treatment, through both our Mobile Response Program and services offered at the Orange campus,” says Phillip Franks, chief executive officer of Be Well OC.

“We have the ability to meet and connect with people where they are, even in crisis,” says Franks. “By extending services directly to the community, we can better coordinate with partners like the Center to promote optimal mental health and wellness for all Orange County residents, regardless of their ability to pay.”


At Be Well’s Orange campus, individuals can receive targeted mental health or substance use urgent care and/or residential treatment in an environment intentionally designed to promote a dignified and respectful healing

experience. An Irvine campus is under construction and set to open in early 2025. Complementing the campuses is Be Well’s Mobile Crisis Response Team. Skilled in deescalation, crisis intervention, counseling and mediation, the team can effectively address a client’s emotional and social well-being in the community, and offer information and referrals, transportation to services, and additional follow-up support and case management.


While the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living has always promoted mental health through its range of services, the partnership with Be Well OC adds a valuable dimension to a critical aspect of the Center’s care. Rocio Valencia- Vega, principal at the MHCSHL reflects that “Mental health care is integral to good overall health, so we are pleased to be partnering with Be Well OC in this shared mission which benefits our clients’ quality of life and the community as a whole.”


Perinatal Mental Health

Vital for Mother and Baby

No longer dismissed as “just the baby blues,” perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS) are common. One in five women experience clinically significant mood and/or anxiety symptoms during or after pregnancy, making it the number one health complication associated with giving birth.

PMADS are the distressing feelings and mental health complications that can occur during pregnancy or soon after giving birth.

Potentially serious and complex, support for PMADS is vital in order to promote healthy maternal and family bonds, and to give babies the best possible start in life. Hoag’s Mental Health Center is privileged to have two bilingual Certified Perinatal Mental Health Clinicians - Marisa Arpels, LCSW and Miriam Bustamante, LCSW. These two specialized and passionate clinicians dedicate their

efforts to helping under-resourced parents in the community cope with the challenges of bringing home a baby.

Both Marisa and Miriam note that in addition to the changes and issues that all new moms face, “Our clients have additional stressors related to severe financial instability: discrimination, lack of access to quality care, and language barriers.” They also note that many mothers do not get paid leave from their jobs and cannot afford childcare, so they are forced into greater poverty due to impossible


choices about whether to work or stay at home with the baby. Many do not have the support of family nearby or are scared to ask for help. They face food and housing insecurity, on top of the already stressful job of parenting children.

Marisa and Miriam share, “We are so grateful that our Mental Health Center exists to fill in the gap for those parents who may not otherwise be able to access mental health resources.” The Center also offers bi-weekly food distribution and a monthly diaper distribution for our families, an especially welcomed service. And once they feel ready, new moms can benefit from participating in the Center’s free fitness classes, where free childcare is provided during the class. “Healthy Steps,” a stroller walking group, helps establish a sense of community for new moms to connect.

One of the biggest challenges Miriam sees new parents face is the change in relationship dynamics after bringing the baby home. She points out that, “When a baby is born, two parents are also born and it can be difficult to continue to prioritize the relationship

after becoming a parent.” To help smooth the transition, Miriam teaches a workshop for new and expecting parents called “The Fourth Trimester.”

Both Marisa and Miriam have counseling backgrounds with master’s degrees in social work. Both interned at Hoag’s Mental Health Center during graduate school. Both are moms, themselves, and of course, both claim that babies are the most fun part of the job. Miriam notes, “Not only are they cute, but for me, seeing a happy healthy parent providing a secure attachment for their babies is everything.”

Reflecting on the positive impact their work can have, Marisa and Miriam say, “It’s really prevention at its finest…creating an environment that can minimize the risk for potential mental health challenges and really begin to break the cycle of generational trauma for their children.”

We are so grateful that our Mental Health Center exists to fill in the gaps for those parents who may not otherwise be able to access mental health resources. “

Community Nurse Navigators

The Community Nurse Navigation (CNN) Program at the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living was created to help guide our low income, uninsured and senior populations through their health journey. The nurse navigators focus on prevention and management of chronic diseases and support patients navigating through various health care barriers.

One such barrier is language – the ability to effectively communicate with doctors and health care workers. Another challenge is securing emotional support during especially stressful times. That’s where our bilingual nurse navigators come in providing care coordination, patient advocacy, support, and education sensitive to bicultural needs. “It’s so easy to get lost in our complex health care system,” says Minzah Malik, principal of Community Benefit. “Our community nurse navigators really work hard to bridge those gaps for our underserved communities by guiding them through the process and empowering them to make informed decisions about their health.”

Cathy Patton, RN, is a full-time community nurse navigator at the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living. A typical day for her involves providing one-on-one assistance in care coordination, connecting the clients to case management services as well as providing group health education classes focused on various health and chronic disease topics. In her role, Cathy also collaborates with local organizations to address unmet health needs of the patient.

One such organization with a shared mission is Cancer Kinship, a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering women facing cancer through support and education. In January 2023, a new Spanish cancer support group was launched at the Center in collaboration

with Cancer Kinship. Facilitated by nurse Cathy, this Spanish support group offers numerous benefits particularly to women from underserved communities who lack culturally relevant resources and support.

In addition to providing a safe space to share fears about a cancer diagnosis and ask questions, Cathy’s fluency in Spanish and her expert knowledge of available resources and the health care system prove to be an invaluable source of support for these women during a stressful health crisis.

The community nurse navigators at the Center focus on health literacy, but also serve as compassionate guides, providing health coaching and support through each step of the care continuum. Cathy shares, “I have a genuine passion for helping others and I’m dedicated to actively providing nursing navigation to those with various medical needs in our community.”

Thanks to our partnership with Cancer Kinship, the Center’s community nurse navigator program is able to bridge another barrier vital to better health care outcomes for this underserved community.


Cancer Kinship

A Partnership with a Personal Connection

The Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living is fortunate to partner with local nonprofits who provide programs and services to help elevate our clients to achieve optimal health. One such partner is Cancer Kinship, an Orange County nonprofit focused on empowering women facing cancer through support and education. And its Executive Director and Founding Director, Yolanda (Yoli) Origel, not only excels in her role there, she also has a deeply personal connection to this shared mission.

Yoli is a 15-year survivor of Stage III triple negative breast cancer who was successfully treated at Hoag. After her recovery, she was motivated to develop the business plan for what would later become Cancer Kinship. She discovered MHSCHL and their support for nonprofits through their provision of office and program space for workshops. So one day, she stopped by the Center. Greeted by friendly Center staff who gave her a brief tour and explained their services, Yoli shared that her visit “solidified her belief that, this could be the perfect home for Cancer Kinship,

and she submitted her application for partnership.

Yoli shares that “her passion for health equity is deeply personal.” As a child, Yoli’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, so Yoli often accompanied her to doctor appointments to serve as her Spanish translator. Her mother lacked access to the support groups she undoubtedly needed as a mother of seven, with limited knowledge and emotional support from peers to help her navigate her aggressive cancer. More recently, she also lost her youngest sister to metastatic disease.

Yoli leads Cancer Kinship with true empathy. She genuinely understands the complex journey from a newlydiagnosed cancer patient to a survivor. “As a survivor, it has been an honor to serve as a support person for patients who are just entering their cancer storm.” And this partnership with Cancer Kinship enables the Center to fill a gap in health care in a sensitively bilingual, bicultural way.


NAMI Orange County A National Leader Lends

Local Support

Since 2018, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Orange County (NAMI OC), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, has been a collaborative partner with the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living. NAMI has provided classes, support groups and other resources, helping the Center expand its mental health services and meet a crucial need in the community.

The partnership originally started with a grant more than six years ago as part of a unique cross-collaboration between Hoag and NAMI OC. This grant funded NAMI Connects, a program with trained staff who have lived experience also known as peers. The peers support patients and families in the emergency room facing a mental health crisis. The peers work closely with the ED physicians, nurses and social workers to provide added comfort, resources and education as they navigate mental illness. The program initially started at the Joan & Andy Fimiano Emergency Pavilion in Newport Beach and this year has expanded to the Benjamin & Carmela Du Emergency Pavilion at Hoag Hospital Irvine.

Deb Diaz de Leon serves as director of peer services at NAMI Orange County. Creating this innovative program “from the inside of Hoag”, she works closely between the ED doctors and

NAMI staff to ensure that they can provide the best support to the community. She notes that in these challenging situations, “a listening ear is always appreciated.” Although NAMI’s focus is mental health support, Deb Diaz de Leon notes that “we are also available for all patients and family members in the Emergency Room.”

NAMI Connects Peers offer a special service for patients and their families experiencing a mental health crisis, providing an additional, personalized layer of care. Hoag’s physicians and staff are committed to the highest standards, and this collaboration with NAMI OC helps strengthen patient care, making us stronger as a team. “We are so excited to have NAMI here at Hoag Irvine. They have the time to dedicate to our patients and families to better understand their specific needs and help meet them.” Nicole Bryant MS, RN, CEN-Director of Critical Care and Emergency Department.


Health Equity

Being sick is part of life. But imagine also being scared, not being able to effectively communicate in English, or even know how to ask for help. That’s the frightening reality for approximately one million Orange County residents — a sobering statistic that underscores the need for a bilingual, bicultural workforce to help address issues of health inequity.

Fortunately, that need has been turned into a reality at the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living, leading the way by building a vital bilingual and bicultural workforce. The Center is committed to resolving issues of health inequity in the local community and is actively leading by example.

“We recognized the need for this service and we addressed it,” says Rocio ValenciaVega, principal of the Center. “The causes of health inequity include economic factors such as a lack of insurance and low wages. Other barriers are cultural. In the local Orange County community, health equity issues are exacerbated by language barriers, legal status, and high depression rates — all major factors that keep residents oppressed and disadvantaged. A bilingual/bicultural workforce is optimally positioned to meet the needs of the Center’s clients.”


At the core of the bilingual and bicultural team are four Hispanic women on the Center staff who have recently graduated with Masters degrees in Social Work: Dulce Arias Jackson, ASW, mental health therapist; Elvia Escamilla, ASW, care manager; Jessica Sanchez, ASW, care manager; and Rosalba Lezo, ASW, care manager.

To help build a bilingual and bicultural workforce from within, the Center has supported and accommodated staff in their graduate school goals. Dulce Arias Jackson says, “Thanks to the financial help from Hoag Hospital Foundation’s scholarship and Hoag’s Employee Education Scholarship Program, I was able to complete my

three-year MSW graduate program while still contributing positively to my community during a pandemic.” Jessica Sanchez is grateful that, “MHSCHL made it possible for me to maintain a healthy work-life balance by providing the flexibility to transition to part-time status and accommodated my schedule around my internship experiences.”


The Center boasts a solid history of bicultural bridge-building which only grew stronger with the creation of the Promotor program (or Community Health Worker). The Promotores are bilingual, bicultural liaisons who serve as the outreach team for the Center. Their primary goal is to address the needs of the marginalized community. Rosalba Lezo initially joined the staff as one of the Center’s first promotores in 2018. Now the lead promotor at the Center, her primary goal is to conduct intentional outreach that targets those individuals who are uninsured and often face daily challenges in the communities they live. She also proudly notes that, “Hoag’s Mental Health Center has a bilingual and bicultural team that offers no-cost professional psychotherapy services in English, Farsi, and Spanish for those individuals who cannot afford services nor have access to services.”


Through multiple innovative approaches to building a bilingual and bicultural workforce from within, the Center is leading the way toward addressing the issues of health inequity in the vulnerable under resourced community.


“My bicultural life-experience, rooted in immigrating to the United States as a minor, has profoundly shaped my determination to aid others within the community. My own journey, background, and new role as a social worker pushes me to contribute a sense of empathy, understanding, and empowerment within our diverse community.” Dulce appreciates how MHSCHL supported her with a flexible work schedule to balance work and study demands.

Elvia shares, “My family and I joke that I was a social worker in training since elementary school, often helping other families navigate resources when translators weren’t available.” In her work, Elvia is genuinely empathetic to the challenges that her clients face. “As an immigrant Latina woman, I know first-hand, the challenges and barriers that exist when attempting to access services.”

Growing up in a low-socioeconomic status household, with a monolingual Spanish speaking single-parent, Jessica can empathize with the individuals and families she serves. She is grateful for the “constant comfort, encouragement and empowerment from everyone at MHSCHL to pursue my Masters degree and accomplish my dream to become a social worker.”

Rosalba is grateful for the management team at MHSCHL and how they provided flexible work arrangements, easing the burden of pursuing graduate studies while working part-time. “This support has been a game-changer in my life by allowing me to balance my academic commitments and work responsibilities effectively.”


Financial Literacy

Tools for Success

SparkPoint OC, a program of the Orange County United Way, is working to make financial stability a reality for low-income residents. SparkPoint’s mission is to give OC residents the tools they need to create financial stability through education, classes, and one-on-one financial coaching. The Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living counts on SparkPoint OC as a vital partner.


With the help of one-on-one financial coaching, attainable goal-setting plans are created in three key areas: ways to increase income, managing credit and building assets. Practical services supporting these goals include free tax prep, job training and placement, creating sustainable household budgets, and creating savings goals toward home-buying or paying for college.


The information and education are provided by both expert staff and compassionate volunteers. Specialists in finance, education and social work lead the team, with caring individuals also lending a hand. SparkPoint OC is offered at eight locations throughout Orange County, the newest one launched at our Center in April

34 clients increased their savings with accumulative total of $61,247

35 clients reduced their debt and accumulative clients reduced their debt by $166,093

2023. Workshops are offered in both English and Spanish. This financial coaching program is offered at no cost to the client. Since launching the program, we surpassed the enrollment target of serving 50 households.

Working in partnership with local nonprofits to address the county’s most pressing needs is the goal of the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living. “Our collaboration with OC United Way is helping us bring the community one step closer to breaking the cycle of poverty by attaining financial stability,” says Minzah Malik, principal of the Center, “helping clients move from surviving to thriving.”

26 clients increased their credit scores and clients improved their credit by up to 31 points

260 tax returns prepared $264,338 in total tax refunds

Client Highlights

Profile: Nancy DeLeon

The role of the SparkPoint OC Financial Case Manager is to provide one-on-one coaching, support, education, and guidance on identifying a client’s financial goals — working with them for 12 months in the areas of increasing income, reducing debt, improving credit, building assets, and educating them on the basics of money management.

Case Manager Nancy DeLeon spearheads this vital program. Nancy brings an invaluable personal perspective to her role at SparkPoint, sharing that as a child, she recalls “being the only English speaker in my family and having to be my mom’s advocate at a very young age. As a little girl, I learned how to navigate complicated financial systems in an unfamiliar country with a foreign language, and as a result, my passion for advocating for family, friends and our community grew.”

She successfully used her early experiences to guide her career path and mission to help others. Nancy has nine years of experience as a case manager in the field of financial stability and is very knowledgeable about issues affecting lowto-moderate-income individuals and families. Nancy shares one strategy to help clients, saying “We constantly contact clients to ensure we build genuine connections and to give them the support needed so that clients are on track to increase income, reduce debt, increase savings and improve credit scores.”

On a personal note, Nancy says, “I am passionate about my work because it is close to my heart.” Nancy feels tremendous satisfaction from her work, saying that “SparkPoint offers a strong foundation for financial literacy” and knowing that she is helping to change the lives of MHSCHL clients.

Success Story

A client was assisted with filing her 2022 and 2023 taxes, and the family will receive $3,678 from 2023 and $10,659 for 2022!

We are working together to make a plan to ensure the refund is used to pay off some IRS and personal debt, establish savings, and buy clothes and shoes their kids need.

Two clients have established credit histories and are in the 700 credit score range, as they understand wise borrowing strategies and money management when utilizing credit.

192,450 Diapers Distributed


Door-to-Door Promotores Outreach Contacts in Costa Mesa 909 Provided Professional Training & Workforce Development to Nonprofit Partners

422 Individuals Served By Community Nurse Navigators

1,347 Participants in Health Education Workshops $30,530 Direct Aid to Local Families

2,645 Participants in Mental Health Community Workshops and Groups

4,314 Mental Health Therapy Sessions

7,630 Individuals Received Food Assistance

9,249 Participation in Integrated Health Services

$107,560 Emergency Housing Assistance

5,027 Individuals Assisted with Crisis Case Management and Resource Brokering

307 Placentia Ave Newport Beach, CA 92663 (949) 764-6551
The Golden Rule Magazine Published by Hoag’s Department of Community Health The Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living YEAR IN REVIEW 2023
services are provided at no cost department-of-community-health/

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