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Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence


Roberto Lewis-Fernandez, MD, Director


The New York State (NYS) Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence (CECC) at NYSPI is dedicated to study and develop best practices for underserved population affected by cultural and linguistic barriers. Founded in 2007 with the support of the NYS Legislature, the NYSPI CECC is one of two Centers funded and designated by the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) to address cultural and linguistic barriers limiting the mental health care access and wellness of individuals, families and communities. The CECC currently focuses on five areas of work:

  • Improving the integration of physical and mental health services for people with serious mental illness. This includes projects to:
    • Identify physical health and health care disparities.
    • Develop a peer-led healthy lifestyle intervention interventions to address physical disparities affecting people with serious mental illness.
    • Improve access to mental health services in primary health settings.
  • Best practices for language interpreting and cultural brokering services. This area includes projects to:
    • Develop a video-based approach for skilled interpreters to use cultural information to inform mental health care encounters.
    • Create provider training and consumer/family empowerment tools to improve the effective use of interpreters.
  • Culturally competent diagnosis and engagement. This area includes projects to:
    • Develop and study the DSM-5 Cultural Formulation Interview, a 16- question tool to elicit culturally relevant information for diagnosis and treatment planning.
    • Develop an approach to use motivational interviewing in engaging and retaining Latino outpatients in antidepressant therapy.
    • Study the use of a fotonovela – a cartoon style soap opera in print – to serve as a health education tool about depression among Latinos.
  • Prevention of suicidal behavior in diverse populations. This area includes projects to:
    • Evaluate “Life is Precious,” an innovative, culturally competent intervention to reduce suicidal ideation and behaviors among Latina youth.
    • Assess suicidality among Russian-speaking primary care patients.
  • Policy research and social determinants of health. This includes projects to:
    • Develop a peer-supported economic intervention for people psychiatric disabilities.
    • Support OMH in its transformation plan to expand community-based services.
  • First-episode psychosis care. This area includes projects to:
    • Create, in partnership with the Center for Practice Innovations’s OnTrackNY, guidelines for providing culturally competent care in first-episode psychosis.
    • Study employment and educational outcomes of young people experiencing a first-episode psychosis.
    • Create videos to empower youth and families to request and participate in conversations about their culture and identities to inform treatment planning.


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