When the coronavirus pandemic hit Northern Colorado, staff at La Cocina — which offers Spanish-speaking mental health services — realized they needed to shift how they provide services to fill the growing community need.
Janina Fariñas, chief executive at La Cocina, said the organization has seen a “very significant increase” in the need for mental health services since the pandemic began. Since March, anxiety and depression cases have soared, and domestic violence and child abuse reports have also increased as people have been quarantined in their homes, Fariñas said.
“To be honest, we’ve only seen the problem get bigger,” Fariñas said.
On average, La Cocina’s 20 employees serve about 140 families per week and complete 500-600 contacts with those clients every week.
In addition to stresses from being quarantined, Fariñas said many clients lost their jobs and are concerned about being evicted and not being able to buy food or pay other bills. La Cocina staff have also seen an increase in depression and anxiety in teens in the community who are worried about taking care of sick family members or thinking about what the upcoming school year will look like.
“As all those factors compound, what you see is a complete breakdown in mental health,” Fariñas said.
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La Cocina was founded in 2017 and solely serves families and individuals who are uninsured, Fariñas said. “We serve truly the most vulnerable of the vulnerable in our community.”
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Fariñas said La Cocina’s services were mainly in-person, with a lot of services provided in clients’ homes. Almost overnight, Fariñas said, staff had to transition to providing their services almost 100% virtually.
While transitioning to telehealth, Fariñas said they also had to help clients adjust. Some had little experience using technology while others didn’t have access to Wi-Fi or a computer.
To fund the transition, Fariñas said they applied for and received several grants, including $25,000 from the Colorado COVID Relief Fund — the maximum award. In total, La Cocina received $70,000 in grant funds from the state, Larimer County Behavioral Health, United Way, and Latino Community Foundation since the pandemic began.
La Cocina is one of 24 Larimer County organizations to receive funding through the Colorado COVID Relief Fund, with $532,625 granted to Larimer County organizations since it was launched in March. The fund has raised more than $16 million for more than 750 organizations statewide.
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La Cocina received its COVID Relief Grant funding in the first round of grants awarded in early May. Fariñas said the organization has already used all the grant money to transition the company to fully telehealth services, including developing an easy-to-use online platform for clients and purchasing Wi-Fi, Chromebooks and other technology for clients who didn’t already have access.
“Resources for the community that we serve are very, very limited,” Fariñas said. “They were already limited before and now they are even more limited.”
Now that La Cocina has transitioned into telehealth, Fariñas said staff will continue providing as many services as they can virtually, even after the pandemic. Many of La Cocina’s services, especially for younger children, aren’t feasible via video conference, Fariñas noted.
But utilizing telehealth has allowed La Cocina to branch out, reaching people in parts of Larimer County outside of Fort Collins and Loveland more easily. Since the coronavirus outbreak, staff have also been doing mental wellness Facebook Live videos every Thursday, with the most recent one on teen anxiety and depression engaging about 1,000 people, Fariñas said.
La Cocina currently has a waiting list for its services, and Fariñas said the organization is now struggling to find additional grant money since receiving its first few grants during the pandemic.
So many organizations are applying for grants due to the pandemic, and Fariñas said the organization already only qualifies for a limited number of grants due to the nature of La Cocina’s work.
“We struggle systemically … with the same issues that our families struggle with: Accessing resources, being at the forefront of equitable funding,” Fariñas said. “As people are deciding where to give money, we want people to think about that: To give to organizations led by people of color, to give to organizations that are doing work with communities of color that are of course most impacted.”
The Coloradoan partnered with SummitStone Health Partners to host a mental health training this week. We asked the speakers why this discussion matters.
Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.
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