IMPERIAL COUNTY — The Imperial County Department of Behavioral Health Services has made several moves to enhance its ability to meet the needs of those facing mental health crises, agency Director Andrea Kuhlen announced.
The Crisis and Engagement unit, which had been part of the Adult Services unit, is now its own unit with a deputy director who reports solely to the director. Named to the new deputy director position is Maria Ruiz.
In a related move, Juan Flores has been named to fill Ruiz’s former position as manager of crisis services.
Ruiz oversees a team that now responds proactively when a person is facing a mental health crisis, provides them immediate care, assists them with reintegration into the community and/or helps them transition to long-term outpatient services. The crisis team is now staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The team also provides outreach to shelters, schools, churches and other community organizations to reach those who need care but are not yet receiving it.
“Under the guidelines of the Mental Health Services Act we are expanding our efforts toward proactive and preventive care, and due to her experience Maria Ruiz is the ideal choice to lead the Crisis and Engagement team,” Kuhlen said.
Ruiz, who joined Behavioral Health in 2001 as a case manager, was promoted from the position of Behavioral Health manager in October.
Ruiz earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology, and a master’s degree in social work, both from San Diego State University, Imperial Valley Campus, in Calexico. She is currently working toward her clinical social worker’s license.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Ruiz said. “When I was doing my undergraduate work in criminal justice I took some psychology classes and decided that is what I am more passionate about.”
As crisis manager since October, Flores has oversight of staff that assesses clients facing a mental health crisis, provides them with temporary shelter, assists them with reintegration into the community and/or and helps them in transitioning to long-term outpatient care.
“It’s exciting work because we’re in the midst of growth. When people come in we have a number of ways we can assist them and we can link them to the follow-up outpatient care they need,” Flores said.
Flores began working at Behavioral Health in 2005 as an adolescent substance abuse counselor and before joining the crisis team was supervisor of the anxiety and depression clinic in Brawley. He is also a certified substance abuse counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Born in Mexicali and a graduate of Brawley Union High School, he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from SDSU, Imperial Valley Campus, and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the University of Phoenix.