Sitting to the right is Bill Wagner, Executive Director
Centro Sávila’s offices in Albuquerque’s South Valley are bright. Not only is the building full of sun-facing windows and propped open side doors, it’s also designed in a way that sort of makes you feel like you’re walking into a day spa. There is local artwork on the walls, coffee, fresh fruit and croissants spread out on the kitchen counter, and an overwhelming sense of calm that descends with each step through the door. This soothing ambiance is highly intentional. Centro Sávila was founded in 2011 by Executive Director Bill Wagner as, “a treatment program devoted to the recovery and healing of individuals, families, and communities suffering from emotional and psychological distress.” In Albuquerque’s South Valley there is no clear, large model for the sort of work that Centro Sávila is doing. There are plenty of people in the area who are bilingual and bicultural who want to help their community, but despite this fact, there is still substantial demand for trained psychologists and social workers. Centro Sávila is one of very few organizations paving the way for community-based, comprehensive care in the Southwest.
Centro Sávila is made up of five full-time staff members who have built an affordable community-based model to train culturally and linguistically appropriate providers to work in this underserved community. Currently, Centro Sávila is training two University of New Mexico PhD Psychology students, two Social Work students, a counseling student and a psychiatry resident. The organization also has a substantial amount of volunteer community support including professors at the local universities and a child psychologist who also helps train and supervise the staff. As part of the organizational model, medical students who work with Centro Sávila are trained, and given the opportunity to hone in on particular skills while also figuring out the language that works best for them with clients. As Wagner states, “Centro Sávila is homegrown.” This sentiment extends not only to staff development and the cultivation of learning, but also quite literally, to the garden that grows in the backyard. Simply put, the garden is a place for people who come to the clinic to reflect. It stands as a clear metaphor for growth and progress, and it fits right in with Centro Sávila’s holistic approach. The comprehensive care model includes outpatient mental health services, case management, school-based restorative justice programs, food security support and drug and alcohol counseling and recovery. “The interventions are designed to feed the needs of the community,” says Wagner, and they have.
Centro Sávila is one of very few behavioral health care providers in its county, and it has the waitlist to prove it. In New Mexico, on the whole, behavioral health services are under-resourced and sparse, and in Centro Sávila’s South Valley the effects of this are evident. There are a number of factors at work in Albuquerque that make it difficult for low income individuals and families to receive proper mental and behavioral healthcare. Often services are too expensive or inaccessible by public transportation. In addition, the answer to many of these problems thus far has been more like a triage than a lasting solution. These barriers are not unknown, and it’s important to keep them in mind when considering community based mental health work.
Despite the challenges, Centro Sávila remains steadfast and hopeful. The organization is focused on the individual and committed to providing services to as many clients and families as possible. By offering specific interventions that are based on community need, investing in supervision and helping young professionals and graduate students gain traction and experience in their work, Centro Sávila has become a promising and necessary model for mental and behavioral healthcare.