MHALA President and CEO, Dr. David A. Pilon.

MHALA President and CEO, Dr. David A. Pilon.

Mental Health America of Los Angeles (MHALA) visited American University of Health Sciences (AUHS) to discuss the fruitful possibilities of collaboration on Monday, January 30, 2017. MHALA President and CEO, Dr. David A. Pilon and MHALA Vice President Kathleen McDermott met with AUHS Co-founder Pastor Gregory Johnson and his staff in the second floor conference room. MHA Village is a homeless and mental health assistance program that provides services to those in need.The meeting began with an opening prayer from AUHS Co-founder, Pastor Gregory Johnson. Pastor Johnson thanked God for all the years that the MHA Village has served and worked with “populations that are so routinely set aside and so routinely invisible to man people.”

In the beginning of his presentation, Pastor Johnson mentioned how he had known Dr. Pilon for many years.

“(Dr. Pilon) and I hit it off. What I admired so much about him is that he is not pretentious, he is accessible and he is a person that cares about what’s happening in the community of mental health,” Pastor Johnson said.

Pastor Johnson explained the mission statement of AUHS to his guests. It was the University’s goal to educate and equip students in life careers in the health field- nursing, research and pharmacy, and to produce quality health care professionals as well as create a place where an appreciation of life and one’s spiritual reason for existence can be nurtured.

He believed that AUHS nursing students would be perfect candidates to volunteer for MHALA because both organizations shared many of the same core values. Just like MHALA, AUHS strives to serve and uplift people who are homeless and mentally ill. It is AUHS’ mission for its students to not only strive for academic excellence, but to teach its future nurses the importance of truly caring for and understanding the most vulnerable people in society.

“Our vision is to use the field of health care as a means for addressing social, economic and health care disparity, in medically underserved populations and areas both locally and globally,” said Pastor Johnson said, “We look at health care reform as a way of crossing over or removing that disparity but we strongly believe it has to start in populations that are traditionally not involved in the solution part of health care, such as disenfranchised families.”

MHALA BuildingPastor Johnson discussed the many charitable events the University holds every year including “Health Fair,” “Santa Cause,” “Acts of Love,” and “Giving Thanks,” where AUHS gives free groceries, money and health care services to needy families and individuals. Pastor Johnson also discussed “Lamp Unto My Feet,” a community outreach project that was recommended by an AUHS student.

“Lamp Unto My Feet” is an event where AUHS partners with homeless shelters such as Long Beach Rescue Mission and students washed the feet of homeless men and women.

“It goes back to Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. But it also lets the recipient know that they are valued, they have someone to talk (and) they have someone who is present with them,” said Pastor Johnson, “There is a great deal of mental health issues in the homeless community. And just being in a place where someone  doesn’t look down to them but actually bows to them resonates fully in a lot of things that they would want to do.”

Pastor Johnson told Dr. Pilon that he and AUHS wanted to help MHALA because they, as a University, wanted to help their community more. Pastor Johnson shared how he had been homeless for two years after his mother and little brother died.

“Your personal experience is what a lot of our members experience,” Dr. Pilon said.

Dr. Pilon was “impressed” with Pastor Johnson’s presentation and appreciated the University’s focus on serving “the most vulnerable among us.” MHALA is an agency that ostensively focuses on people with severe and persistent mental illnesses, Dr. Pilon said,  but what they have come to understand is the fact that “even though their mental illnesses oftentimes is the cause or the source of the issue, the problem extends way beyond just the behavioral health condition.”

“It is much more about poverty and isolation and loss of hope,” Dr. Pilon said, “So our job is to help people recover and find a platform that helps people find a way back into society from which they’re been exiled.”

Dr. Pilon went on to say that he was very proud of the “welcoming” culture that MHA had and how they were a training site for a tremendous number of social work, nursing and nurse practitioner students. Although MHALA’s need for volunteers is “maxed out to some extent, I’m not closing the door on this,” said Dr. Pilon, “We can try to work with you and try to figure out if we have room for this (collaboration).”

The collaboration between AUHS and MHALA is in its early stages but it is likely AUHS students will have opportunities to volunteer with MHALA either in psych rotations or in special projects.