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Healthcare Heroes: Aaron Ortiz and Manuel Jimenez
Aaron Ortiz
Aaron Ortiz

The need for therapists, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists is more significant than ever. Under relentless pressure from the pandemic and inflation, wildfires and gun violence, racism, and war, our communities are crying out for help.

Fortunately, we have two local leaders who are determined to move mountains. Aaron Ortiz, CEO of La Familia, and Manuel Jimenez, Regional Director of La Familia, are dedicated to bringing much-needed mental health services and solutions to our underserved communities. Under their leadership, La Familia partners with the community to provide free, high-quality support services to low-income residents in the communities they serve.

Manuel Jimenez
Manuel Jimenez Jr., MA, LMFT

In August 2022, La Familia Central Valley was made possible through the merger between La Familia and the First Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (First Behavioral). While the Turlock-based non-profit has only existed since July 2020 (created by Legacy Health Endowment), they have stepped up to meet the mental health needs of the Central Valley during an especially critical time.

Ortiz and Jimenez continue to work tirelessly to ensure that mental health care is never out of reach for community members in the Central Valley. Offering linguistically appropriate and culturally relevant services has been a priority with hiring bilingual and multilingual clinicians. To reduce the challenges with transportation and increase ease of access, they have partnered with local school districts to provide on-site school counseling services, offer telehealth visits, and make psychiatry services available for medication management. Consideration of these features exemplifies the team’s commitment to high-quality care that is accessible to all those who seek it, especially for those who often face barriers related to financial, transportation, and language limitations.

La Familia is making a tremendous impact on our communities by offering mental health services in schools—a place where kids are already congregating—it makes sense. It impacts substance use disorders, school-based violence, and other societal issues. Yet, many rural school districts barely have a school nurse and do not have a mental health therapist. Jimenez and Ortiz are paving the way for mental health services in our rural communities with evidence-based results.

Ortiz has dedicated his career to helping youth, adults, and families in the San Francisco Bay Area by providing accessible public health, education, workforce development, youth development, mental health, family preservation, and culturally competent programs. His career began at La Familia, where he worked from 1992-1997 as a youth mentor. Ortiz also served on the board of La Familia for 14 years and was Chairman of the Board for two years. He pursued other jobs from 1997-2014 and became the Executive Director of La Familia in July 2014. Ortiz arrived at actualizing the merger of East Bay Community Services – an organization he had founded – and La Familia, which strengthened the reach and services of all programs. Since Ortiz became the CEO of La Familia, he has successfully transformed La Familia from a small-sized community-based organization (CBO) to a full-blown CBO by five times the agency budget over four years to a staff of 200.

Jimenez Jr., MA, LMFT, started his career by leading a group to help people with substance abuse issues and veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. When he realized that the group was proving to be successful and making a difference in their lives, he enrolled at Santa Clara University. After graduating, he worked at Santa Cruz County Children's Mental Health before running community health programs for El Dorado County. Later in his career, he became the behavioral health director in Alameda County, from where he would retire and start a private practice in Turlock after realizing there was a barrier to accessing mental health providers.

Legacy Health Endowment invests in people and nonprofit organizations. We want to make sure that every young person in the Central Valley not only has equal access to education but equal access to health care. And that is the critical impact we hope to make regarding behavioral health because we know that their first teachers are their parents.

We are working hard to expand more services to children and adolescents. Through the work of Ortiz, Jimenez and their team, we have noticed that more Hispanic families are encouraging children to speak to a mental health provider, and we know we are making a difference in their lives. We want to create more access because of an unmet need, especially in the Latino community. Many of the parents we work with are first-generation immigrants who do not have the resources and perform one or two jobs. As much as we want to help the children, working with the parents and family members who suffer in silence is essential. It all makes a direct impact on the whole family.

Ortiz and Jimenez are making a difference in the lives of children, adolescents, and adults daily. Their leadership is invaluable. Their inspiration is infectious. I am proud to honor two fantastic healthcare heroes.

—                 Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment and the EMC Health Foundation. The views expressed are his own.