Ana Anders sat quietly among 16 Spanish-speaking patients during the Thursday morning mass at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington. During the liturgy, her concentration was broken by a patient who leaned over to whisper in her ear.

Anders, who is trained as a social worker, assured the distressed patient that "everything is going to be fine." She explained later to a visitor that the patient, who had exhibited "perfectly normal behavior" the day before, was that morning contemplating suicide. "We have to deal with that situation all of the time . . . it goes with the territory," she said.

Since 1980, Anders has been director of the hospital's rehabilitation program, which is designed to provide intense psychiatric treatment for Hispanic patients admitted to St. Elizabeths. Most of them are immigrants from the Virgin Islands and Latin America, and have the added stress of language, social and cultural barriers to overcoming their illnesses.

Casa de Amigo, a small, homelike cottage on the hospital campus, has been a place of refuge and home for the patients. For four hours a day, the group visits the cottage for counseling sessions, recreational activity, peer socialization, medical evaluations and prayer.

They play cards together, learn English together and gather in the living room to watch Spanish television news broadcasts. "We encourage them to keep abreast of world issues," Anders said.

Inside the cottage, one can smell the fresh coffee brewing in the community kitchen, and view paintings done by the patients. The bright orange, green and red colors complement the sound of Caribbean music wailing in the distance.

According to the staff, which consists of 13 medical professionals and social workers, that type of cultural family setting helps in the speedy recovery and ultimate discharge of the patients.

Adell Roman, assistant director of the program, said, "It's important to establish a bond and a trust with the patients so they feel comfortable enough to accept our assistance. We have tried to create a sense of family, which many of these people don't even have here in the United States."

In October, the program took on a new name and a new mission. It is now called the Multicultural Division of the District's Commission on Mental Health.

The change is part of the recent deinstitutionalization of St. Elizabeths and the transfer of the facility from federal to District jurisdiction. The program's expansion will include providing clinical services for all the hospital's non-English speaking patients. That goal, Anders said, presents "a tremendous challenge."

In January, the clinic is scheduled to move from the campus to a building at 16th and U streets NW, at the tip of Adams-Morgan, an area known for its large international population. The clinic recently received city financing to treat children and adolescents.

Anders said she is excited about the impending move. "We are really going to miss the cottage, but sometimes you have to give up certain luxuries to make a change for the better."

Roman said establishing a community-based facility in Adams-Morgan is "logical and cost effective because of the high concentration of multiracial residents. Acculturation and adaptation are the goals of the program, and we plan to take full advantage of the area."

"By having a centralized spot, we are sort of a clearinghouse for medical services," said Marcos Esparza, a staff social worker. "When we move closer to the community we serve, it will give us a chance to better utilize our limited resources."

The convenience of the 16th Street site is also a factor, according to Anders. Many of the civic groups and businesses that have agreed to participate in outreach projects are within walking distance.

Dr. Raul Cuervo-Rubio, medical director for the program, said, "We try to expose our patients to many things to enhance their overall health. Understanding how a department store works, getting a sense of law and order, purchasing a familiar item from a store . . . all of those things provide some therapy and diminish the amount of stress incurred by the patient."

While development of culturally related mental health treatment may be perceived as taxing and expensive at first, Cuervo-Rubio said, "In reality, services will be provided faster, and the system is less costly and more economical."

Already, some residents of Adams-Morgan have expressed concern about the clinic being in their neighborhood. At an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting this fall, participants complained of the possibility of increased parking problems as a result of the proposed move.

But Anders said she is prepared for opposition and believes that "once people realize that we are a public service for the city, they will begin to see the good we are doing for all people."

The Rev. Maximo Ortiz, who works as the chaplain, said, "These people {the patients} deserve to live a life of dignity and respect. In order to build that, we have to connect with the community."