Citing a steady rise in the number of Central American and Cuban refugees resettling in the District who are suffering from mental health problems, the director of the city's only private mental health care agency for Hispanics warned yesterday that insufficient funding and manpower for such programs is creating a "dangerous situation."
At a news conference at the Andromeda Mental Health Center in Adams-Morgan, director Ricardo Galbis said growing numbers of refugees -- including some of the 125,000 Cuban Marielitos who came to the United States in the 1980 boat lift and later resettled here -- are suffering from severe and longstanding mental health disorders that are going untreated.
"About 80 percent of our intakes are in a crisis situation; they suffer from depression, lack of jobs, lack of homes, and because they don't speak English, they don't know how to use the system," Galbis said.
Wally Lumpkin of the District's Office of Refugee Resettlement said $200,000 was set aside last year for social services, including job training and language classes for the city's Hispanic refugees, who are estimated to number 36,000. Andromeda received $26,000 of that money last year to fill a part-time staff position, as well as $44,000 for a six-month period from the city's office of mental health.
The refugees can seek help from other private agencies, but few do so because most of these agencies lack bilingual staffers, Hispanic leaders said yesterday.
Galbis said the Andromeda Center has treated 393 Cuban refugees, but needs between $200,000 and $300,000 to hire additional staff including nurses, social workers and three additional psychiatrists on a full- or part-time basis.
"Right now we are only scratching the surface of the portion of those who need help," Galbis said.