More than 69,000 people — including seniors, families with children, and unaccompanied minors — are counted as homeless in Los Angeles County. Being looked down on and treated as invisible by many fellow Americans weighs heavily on unhoused residents, as do the dangers of living in cars, encampments, and on the streets — and, in some cases, dealing with addiction or mental illness. However, fear, distrust, transportation issues, and other problems have prevented many from seeking urgently needed health care and therapy. Northeast Valley Health Corporation, which operates 14 health centers in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys, has made equitable access to behavioral health and support services a priority by linking low-income and unhoused patients to online therapy.
This came about through a 2021 Center for Care Innovations grant, which provided funds for NEVHC to hire a patient tech navigator to go into shelters to connect residents to medical and behavioral services via telehealth. In this mini-documentary, we follow patient navigator Vanessa Rodarte to visits with several people in LA Family Housing shelters, including patient Joey Ruiz, whose health conditions include bipolar disorder, depression, and epilepsy. In one scene, he and his therapist, Victoria Curtin, LCSW, greet each other warmly as he begins his telehealth appointment. “The first time I saw Victoria on telehealth I was a little skeptical of the whole procedure,” he says. “I’m like, what’s this — hi, goodbye, whatever?” But after two or three visits and the ongoing support from Northeast Valley, he felt a transformation in their connection, inside himself, and in his telehealth therapy. And now? “I’m actually healthy. I’m sober,” he marvels, petting his small, frisky support dog, “My recovery is strong — and my future looks amazing.”
The video was created by Beth Freeman and team for the Center for Care Innovations and Kaiser Permanente, which funded the telehealth project in San Fernando Valley as part of CCI’s Virtual Care Innovation Network, a virtual health collaboration founded by Kaiser Permanente.