Didi Hirsch steps in at Verdugo clinic to serve immigrant population

When a nonprofit that’s been offering mental health services throughout Los Angeles County for almost 70 years had the chance to swoop in and save a mental health clinic in Glendale this summer, officials knew it was a risk.

But it was one Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services leaders were willing to take in order to expand their reach into communities with large immigrant populations where mental illness is often overlooked.

“Part of our mission is to serve communities where there’s stigma or poverty. Glendale was the right place with its immigrant population and large Armenian population,” said Didi Hirsch President Kita Curry at the grand opening of the Glendale facility Thursday night. “If we didn’t come here, services would have disappeared.”

Didi Hirsch took over Verdugo Mental Health in May after the clinic fell into financial trouble. In 2005 and 2007, Verdugo Mental Health borrowed more than $6 million to expand its facility at 1540 E. Colorado Street, but surging construction costs and low revenue pushed the organization to the financial brink. It was then that Didi Hirsch proposed paying $5 million of the $5.6 million Verdugo owed its creditors.

“The needs for services are only going to increase,” Mayor Laura Friedman said to a crowd of about 120, describing how tough economic times have been a major psychological strain on residents. “Didi Hirsch stepped in to fill that void.”

Didi Hirsch has been operating at the Verdugo facility since May with much of the same staff and programs that thousands of clients from Glendale and Burbank came to know. The facility serves children and adults and many staff members are bilingual in English, Armenian, Russian and Spanish.

“We wanted it to be a seamless transition,” said the agency’s vice president, Matt Meyer, adding that the nonprofit is offering more services than Verdugo Mental Health, including an expanded wellness center and employment help.

Didi Hirsch also recently received about $2 million over three years from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to focus on the area’s Armenian population, Curry said.

“We want to increase access to services,” she said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Didi Hirsch has played savior. In the last two decades, the Culver City-based group has taken similar steps at Inglewood and downtown Los Angeles agencies. Curry said the nonprofit’s good name and size — it has an operating budget of $30 million — means it’s better positioned to handle hard economic times.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said at the ceremony Thursday that Didi Hirsch represented the positive that can come from public-private partnerships.

“For so many years, Verdugo Mental Health’s program helped so many in this area. Then we had a crisis. We were pleased Didi Hirsch came in,” Antonovich said. “The quality services Didi Hirsch has provided other communities in our county will continue here.”

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