Mauricio Lask had been working as a chemical engineer for two years when he noticed he was no longer feeling fulfilled or optimistic about the future of his career.
He always knew he wanted to help people and make a difference but wasn’t sure what his next step should be. He always was interested in human behavior, and after some soul searching, Mauricio realized the best way he could make an impact in the world was to help individuals.
“It seemed perfect to align those two interests, the desire to help people and my interest in how the mind works,” he recalls. “So I went back to graduate school and started there.”
Mauricio first learned about La Clínica because its clinic, Casa del Sol, was one of the sites available for doctoral students of psychology to complete their required practicum. The training program was well-known and he remembers several of his colleagues speaking highly of it.
However, Mauricio did his clinical training in San Francisco and New York focusing on helping Latinos and LGBTQ populations. In 2013, following his postdoctoral fellowship and while working as an assessment supervisor for training students, he heard about a career opportunity at La Clínica. Mauricio, who was born and raised in Mexico City, felt comfortable working with the diverse communities La Clínica serves because of his background and previous experience. He applied for the opening and was hired.
Mauricio first started at La Clínica as a Behavioral Medicine Specialist, the organization’s designation for a psychologist at San Antonio Neighborhood Health Center. After a few years in this role, Mauricio had the opportunity to help the behavioral health department supervise some of his fellow clinicians, and was promoted to Lead Behavioral Medicine Specialist. He worked closely with the behavioral health manager and helped to shape higher level programmatic aspects of the department and decision making.
“Within the position I’ve been able to grow,” he says. “I continue to see my patients, which I love. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with supervisors and managers and grant writers to set up a [behavioral health] program that is supportive of our clinicians.”
In this role, Mauricio travels regularly to the other La Clínica medical sites sprinkled across Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties.
“[This role] has also allowed me meet the providers at the different clinics and see how their work is done at their site,” Mauricio said. “Unfortunately, it has also allowed me to see the systemic barriers to care in our healthcare system is in this country. It gives me the opportunity to make patient care better, not just at my clinic but across the board.”
La Clínica’s behavioral health services include prevention, integrated intervention at our medical sites as part of primary care, and specialty mental health treatment for people with more severe conditions or co-occurring mental health and substance use conditions.
Through the setup of the department, Mauricio has been part of a multi-disciplinary approach to health care for patients.
“One of the things I most enjoy is the opportunity to collaborate with primary care providers on patient care. Here at San Antonio, our primary care doctors and behavioral health staff collaborate and coordinate for the same outcome,” he said. “We work on developing true team-based care; the opportunity to do that has been amazing.”
Mauricio says that many of the unique opportunities he’s had at La Clínica would have otherwise not been possible.
“La Clínica has given me enough flexibility and enough resources to be able to develop ways to improve care for our patients, in ways that other places might not have,” he says.
Through this work, he is able to touch the lives of thousands of patients each year that might not typically have access to mental health care. In addition, the department’s approach allows medical providers to screen patients in primary care and refer them to a behavioral health clinician to be seen that same day and as such reduces a lot of the hurdles to care.
In spite of the challenges such as high demand and lack of community resources Mauricio says it is worthwhile because he believes in the meaningful work being done. He feels La Clínica is well positioned to respond to the challenges and is reassured he can count on his colleagues for support.
“La Clínica is a place that has a lot of soul,” he said. “The people that work here are very committed to the mission; it’s something you can tell. For now, we’re on a course together and I can count on my managers and supervisors to have my back and give me the flexibility to be creative and innovate [to improve the quality of the care we provide].”