Citywide training teaches employees to compassionately deal with trauma of their patients, customers

Entire staff at Village Medical primary care clinics are being trained in trauma-informed care

SAN ANTONIO – On the heels of a tragic event like the shooting at Robb Elementary that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers, it’s more important than ever for people to understand trauma.

“With the situation in Uvalde, that’s an extreme situation. But we have trauma every day in every family in the United States: violence between their parents, single parents with their kids, kids that are exposed to substance abuse, kids that are being bullied in their schools,” said Dr. Ramon Reyes with Village Medical.

Village Medical has three primary care clinics in San Antonio, and every single staff member, from receptionists to doctors, is currently being trained in trauma-informed care. That means recognizing that trauma is universal and handling patients and employees with compassion.

“I think it’s very important because you never know, especially mentally, what a person is going through,” said Village Medical patient Lemarcus Watkins.

Watkins is a veteran with PTSD, and he said he’s happy to hear about the trauma-informed care training.

“Sometimes could be just reading their demeanor. Do they look upset? And if they look upset, you simply ask, ‘Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?’ You don’t want to ignore,” said Belinda Garcia-Rattenbury, who heads University Health’s Institute for Trauma-Informed Care.

The institute is the entity providing all the training, and Garcia-Rattenbury hopes businesses of all types sign up.

Village Medical has brought in a social worker for each clinic to assist when mental health issues arise. They’re even changing some of their rooms, making them look less clinical and more comfortable for counseling or decompressing.

“So that we make it comfortable for us to talk to our patients about those difficult, traumatic experiences because people feel stigma, they feel shame about it,” Dr. Reyes said.

Tackling trauma is difficult, but Reyes said doing so could save a patient’s mental and physical health.

“It impacts not only their mental health issues and psychological issues, but it also causes biological diseases, so it impacts everything -- your body, your soul and your spirit,” he said.

Watkins hopes his fellow community members will take the help that’s being offered.

“Just kind of have an open mind to give it a chance to talk to someone, you know. And if you’re going through something, just acknowledge you are not alone in this battle,” he said.

Reyes said the training doesn’t just affect patients. It’s aimed at employees inside the workplace too.

“So that we can have policies that reflect trauma-informed, we can create policies where, if one of our employees has been triggered or affected by the patients that bring trauma to the visit, that employee can take five or 10 minutes of time off to decompress, to be mindful, to relax so that now she can continue to serve the patients that we have,” Reyes said.

He also mentioned that he’s changing the policy about bereavement days for his staff to give them more time off to grieve losses.

Garcia-Rattenbury hopes every person trained will take this compassion into their everyday lives.

“Everyday interactions that we have -- with the corner store, with a waiter at a restaurant -- we have to be compassionate and offer grace as much as possible because everybody is experiencing something,” she said.

The training provided by University Health’s Institute for Trauma-Informed Care is currently free. Right now, a grant is allowing any business or agency to be trained at no cost, but that only lasts until 2025.

If your business or organization wants to learn more about the training, visit the institute’s website.


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About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.

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