Dr. Wanda Figueroa Peralta is no stranger to hard work. Originally from Puerto Rico, her passion for mental health services began at a young age, as she was raised in a family that emphasized the importance of community contribution. Dr. Figueroa Peralta moved to Chicago to complete her graduate studies and has held roles as an administrator, clinician, educator and mental health advocate before assuming the role as the President and CEO of RiverValley Behavioral Health (RVBH) on Jan. 15 of this year.
RiverValley Behavioral Health has 21 Kentucky-based programs that include inpatient and outpatient services for those with mental health, developmental and intellectual disabilities, alcohol and drug addictions, prevention, recovery and treatment. RVBH serves Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Union and Webster counties and RVBH strives to meet mental health needs from prenatal to geriatrics.
As a female CEO, Dr. Peralta recognizes that it is her skills and passion that afforded her the opportunity to lead RiverValley. She said she feels a sense of responsibility to the greater Owensboro area as she’s charged, through collaborative efforts, to develop strategies that allow better access to mental health resources through the expansion of services.
She recalls visiting Owensboro in late summer of 2016. She was immediately impressed by the community, as well as the variety of services available through the agency she would later have the privilege to lead. She recognizes that continued collaboration and strategy development are key to addressing the mental health needs of the communities served.
Figueroa Peralta said colleagues, family and close friends call Owensboro “the hidden jewel” because of the sense of teamwork displayed in the first responders, faith-based entities, the education system, mental and public health. She felt humbled to inherit a system that larger communities strive to emulate when implementing positive change.
Dr. Figueroa Peralta said the agency has a strong focus on mental health first aid training that she can best describe as “emotional CPR,” which helps bring the person’s mental stability and health back to life. This groundbreaking and research-based approach, which she helped launch in Chicago, was in response to the tragedy at Newtown Elementary School six years ago.
“Early intervention and prevention services can save lives,” Dr. Peralta said. “And by mentoring others we improve the health of entire communities. With that approach, we view all youth as ‘our students and our kids.'”
Because early identification is crucial, mental health first aid has a youth-specific training. School systems in Owensboro/Daviess County and throughout the region receive ongoing training. Both youth and adult trainings are available for groups of 20 or more interested in helping the Green River region be a mentally and physically healthier place to live. Dr. Peralta encourages churches, civic organizations, neighborhoods, families and anyone interested to receive instruction.
“The goal,” she said, “is to ‘de-stigmatize mental health’ by seeing the need, respond proactively and help navigate them to community services that can give quality of life.”
Figueroa Peralta has served both urban and rural areas and feels there are universal strategies, like mental health first aid, that may require community specific implementation.
She also wants to offer the reminder that mental health crises do not discriminate and everyone has a role that can benefit the overall health of the community and, as an agency, RiverValley Behavioral Health bridges the gap between prevention, identification, and intervention
For more information about mental health first aid trainings or the services offered at RiverValley Behavioral Health contact at 270-689-6500 or visit www.rvbh.com.