Cameron County as well as the rest of the Valley considered an underserved area for mental health services

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez,

As originally published by Mega Doctor News newsprint edition September 2016.

Dr. Marco A. Vega is in a very challenging field of medicine. He a psychiatrist who is board certified in psychiatry and neurology through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (APBN). Dr. Vega trained at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and then spent four years in residency at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Over these last four years, his primary focus has been in the treatment of his patients with medication management.

Dr. Vega says that until a few years ago people didn’t discuss mental issues at all in private and much less in the open. “It’s improving.” He told Mega Doctor News, “In the short time that I’ve been practicing, I’ve seen it grow already, but it’s still a struggle.”

He says that there’s still some education that needs to happen with patients and their families, but, that’s also improving. “I think with more access to resources like Palms Behavioral Health, people will realize that, like a medical diagnosis, mental health issues sometimes require treatment with medications.”

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Dr. Vega prescribes antidepressant medications for anxiety or psychosis, if they are warranted. “We’ll refer out a patient if they also need psychotherapy or talk therapies in conjunction with their medications,” he said.

On August 1, 2016, Palms Behavioral Health celebrated their ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening. Dr. Vega is the Medical Director for the facility. Palms Behavioral Health has a primary mission to help treat the men, women, children, adolescents and seniors in the Valley’s communities.

Dr. Francisco Torres is the assistant medical director and together they have made the commitment to make Palms Behavioral Health a success.

“I don’t know if you know,” Dr. Vega said.  “But this will be the only child and adolescent facility in Cameron County. As of right now, there are none.”

The current situation is that if a child or adolescent patient from Brownsville, Harlingen, or Port Isabel needs admission to a hospital for either anxiety or suicidal thoughts, right now they have to go to Hidalgo County. He said, “Now Palms Behavioral Health is a great resource for them.” He stated the child and adolescent unit is being prepared and should be ready in about two months.

Dr. Vega says the biggest part of his practice is patients with major depression, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts.

His day is filled with the constant challenge of helping his patients who are dealing with Bipolar and Anxiety disorders, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Schizophrenia.

In the course of his practice, Dr. Vega has treated higher functioning patients such as professionals, teachers, lawyers and even other physicians.

“I always tell my patients, depression, anger, anxiety – those are all normal human emotions.”

He said, “Our goal for treatment is not to prevent those from happening, it’s just we don’t want them to get to a point where it’s consuming them on a daily basis.”

The professional patients he treats, he says that for the most part they accept their situation. “They tend to be more open-minded when it comes to treatment and diagnosis.”

How valuable are your services for the Cameron County community? “I think it’s vital, and very much needed. Obviously, there is still mental health care shortage; it’s one of the worst mental health disparities, not only in Texas, but in the country. So the services of any kind of mental health clinician, whether it be psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health counselors, it’s very much needed.”

Dr. Vega admits that his profession is challenging in the way that with other forms of medicine you can run a blood test, or do an X-ray that can tell what your patient’s diagnosis is. He said, “In psychiatry, you’re not afforded that luxury.”

In addition, there are certain sets of symptoms for which psychiatrists have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) which gives them the criteria of what you do if the patient has XYZ symptoms. But as he says, “You still don’t have that black and white diagnostic proof for the patient, and more importantly, for the patient’s family.”

What is challenging is the fact that in area with the Hispanic culture, it’s really tough to get people to accept the psychiatric diagnosis, and to receive treatment for it. “So that’s been the most challenging part for me,” Dr. Vega stated.

It is no secret that the Rio Grande Valley is extremely underserved in many areas, mental health services are no exception. He has hopes that with the medical school already in place, more physicians will be trained and decide to stay to serve this area.

Dr. Vega is a perfect example of what is needed. He left the area for his medical training but always had the intention of coming back to the Valley.

A combination of several things made it happen, incentives of loan repayment programs to stay in an underserved area and the opportunity to stay close to family. “I knew that there was the need for psychiatrists, and that was a huge factor for me in deciding to come back. We are here to stay,” he said categorically.

What inspired you to do what you do now? “I don’t know that I can put my finger on an exact reason.  I just remember when I did my psychiatry rotation it was unlike any of the other rotations I’d done up until that point.”

In comparing psychiatry to other fields of medicine, Dr. Vega states “When someone goes to see their family doctor, they are asked to physically disrobe which makes them feel vulnerable. In psychiatry, I’m asking my patients to mentally disrobe, which can be even more unsettling”. He goes on to say, “I consider it an honor; to have my patients share the deepest aspects of their lives with me”.

Dr. Vega says that Palms Behavioral Health is a state-of-the-art facility with space and brand new equipment that is unparalleled in the Rio Grande Valley. He gives credit for a job well done to Jim Shaheen, founder and President of Strategic Behavioral Health.

Dr. Vega was born in Harlingen to parents Antonio Vega from Los Fresnos and Rosario Vega from Rio Hondo. His Mom is the receptionist for the clinic that bears his name “Marco A. Vega MD, PA”.

Is there anything else that you would like to add to this conversation? “I think that people might find interesting to know that my sister Velma Vega also graduated from a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-ship recently.” He added that she’ll be joining his practice as soon as she passes her boards. “So it’s kind of in the family. She’s been a psychiatric nurse for a very long time, and in my clinic, my mom is my receptionist, and then my sister is my office administrator, so it’s a family run business. That’s another reason why I don’t see us moving any time soon. We’re here for the long-term,” he says.

Dr. Vega has a passion for his field and serving patients in the Valley; and it is confirmed by the fact that he is here because he loves the area and being close to family.

For more information, look at the website:  www.vegapsychmd.com or call (956) 230-3343 at his office: Marco A. Vega, MD, PA is located at 1117 North Stuart Place Road, Suite 103, in Harlingen, Texas 78552

Dr. Marco A. Vega has been selected as the Mega Doctor for this month for his passion in treating his patients with mental health issues. MDN