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Community Wellness Engagement Unit

Reducing barriers, neighborhood by neighborhood

In July 2019, DBHIDS launched the Community Wellness Engagement Unit, a multilingual engagement team designed to provide greater access to wellness-related resources and support for all communities within its scope.

CWEU works in some of Philadelphia’s most challenged neighborhoods to meet the people most in need and make sure they get access to the services the City has available to them.

CWEU is a mobile unit that makes use of teams of Certified Peer Specialists, Certified Recovery Specialists, and Behavioral Health Specialists to assess individuals, link them to the appropriate services, and coordinate with agencies and community stakeholders to address any barriers to treatment and wellness.

If you have any questions, please email

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Team


  • Diversity: The composition of a group – specifically whether different demographics are represented in a group.
  • Equity: The centering of creating opportunities and changes to a space or system so marginalization doesn’t unjustly predict one’s success and ultimately improves outcomes for all.
  • Inclusion: A person or group of people’s abilities to contribute to and fully participate in a space. Inclusion is also the acknowledgement, celebration, and welcoming of individuals’ sense of uniqueness and belonging.

DBHIDS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team Vision

DBHIDS believes in a community where everyone can thrive and be authentic and included; has a voice and feels valued; and can achieve health, well-being, and self-determination. DBHIDS celebrates differences and advocates for equity and justice. DBHIDS strives to shift the culture boldly by collecting, reporting, and monitoring data and building partnerships and collaborations with various stakeholders. Above all, DBHIDS recognizes that diversity includes YOU.

DEI Principles



Diversity at DBHIDS recognizes the unique perspectives and needs of Philadelphians in the way we serve individual and community differences by:

  • Ensuring diversity in recruitment, hiring, and promotion policies, procedures, and practices.
  • Creating and promoting safe spaces and training opportunities to increase diversity awareness; and
  • Practicing a culture where everyone participates in addressing disparities.

DEI Principle: EQUITY


Equity at DBHIDS guarantees fair and full access to opportunities and resources by:

  • Ensuring policies, procedures, and practices reflect equity.
  • Creating an impartial environment; and
  • Practicing transparency to promote accountability.



Inclusion at DBHIDS respects and welcomes diverse viewpoints in collective decision-making regardless of race, gender, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, abilities, disabilities, or health care needs by:

  • Ensuring policies, procedures, and practices are inclusive.
  • Creating an environment that empowers individual to contribute without apprehension authentically; and
  • Practicing a culture of belongingness.


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DEI Team Norms

Team Norms

  • Celebrate diversity
  • Advocate for equity
  • Embrace inclusion
  • Demonstrate respect, honesty, accountability and professionalism
  • Value teamwork, collaboration and relationships
  • Model effective and intentional communication
  • Appreciate one another
  • Recognize diversity includes YOU

DEI Team

DEI Team

The six-member Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) team was created in 2019 to have departmental lens on:

  • inspiring a shared vision by promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the entire DBHIDS and provider systems
  • mitigating disparities; utilizing data, research, and community input for program development; and standardizing clinical quality management tools and protocols
  • providing support to the DBHIDS staff, as well as to the provider community and special populations.

We operate from a three-pronged approach: research, data, and community input to inform our work. Through collaboration, we will model inclusive work practices to promote diverse perspectives, creative viewpoints, and innovative ideas by working collaboratively across all six divisions and all four HR components while implementing department-wide workgroups reflective of staff from all levels. We will work to develop a more equitable work culture.

DEI P.A.C.E. Objectives

DEI P.A.C.E. Objectives

1. Enhance economic and equitable inclusion for the Department’s contracted and subcontracted Minority/Women/Disabled-owned Business Enterprises (MWDBE);
2. Monitor and access the clinical quality of the Department’s DEI practices and attitudes while addressing the DEI needs of its workforce; and
3. Collaborate with behavioral health providers to diversify to increase cultural humility and linguistic competencies to promote inclusive service delivery.

DEI Five-Year Plan

Five-Year Plan

Over the next five years, the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion team will lead the charge and model the way by supporting quality management functions related to DEI by:

  • utilizing data for decision making and contributing to policy and program development for the Department and provider systems;
  • developing mechanisms to manage and standardize DEI;
  • increasing provider recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce reflective of the populations served;
  • providing leadership and coordination of clinical and provider-related quality activities associated to DEI including relevant MWDSBE providers and subcontractors;
  • enhancing reviews and quality improvement projects and evaluations;
  • promoting and enhancing awareness and understanding of DEI through a range of quality management activities and projects.

Immigrant Affairs and Language Access Services

Immigrant Affairs and Language Access Services

Guided by the vision and mission of DBHIDS, the mission of this Unit is to improve the total wellness for immigrant and refugee communities through a holistic community-based engagement and service delivery approach.

Immigrant Affairs and Language Access Services assists in the development of agency-wide policies and strength-based approaches that engage and provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services for refugee and immigrant communities with behavioral health concerns. The unit also serves as an adviser/liaison to the DBHIDS Commissioner, Executive Management Team, and the City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Essential Functions:

  1. Assessing the needs of immigrant and refugee communities as well as service providers, to identify gaps and determine how DBHIDS can deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services to the communities
  2. Developing tools and innovative strategies that support effective service delivery for immigrant and refugee communities
  3. Identifying, developing, maintaining, and aligning resources and information—that exist across the City—to successfully integrate immigrants and refugees into the cultural, social, health, economic, and civic fabric of the City
  4. Promoting the total wellness of immigrants and refugees communities through population health approach

Language Access Services

The DBHIDS Language Access Policy provides protocols for staff when providing services to individuals who have limited English proficiency (LEP). The Policy is essential to the success of our mission to improve the health statuses of Philadelphians in need of behavioral health and/or intellectual disability services. It is the City’s policy to grant access to services or programs to every person even when there is a limited ability to speak, understand, read or write English. Staff WILL NOT suggest or require an LEP member to provide an interpreter in order to receive services.

Accessing Interpretation or Translation Services

If you or someone you know is in need of interpretation or translation services, please use the links below in the Resources section that provide all of the services offered by the City of Philadelphia.

Contact Us

For more information about the Immigrant Affairs and Language Access Service Unit, please contact unit Director Sarorng Sorn, M.S.; office, 215-685-5454; mobile, 267-582-8017.


Essay: A Tangled Path from Khmer Rouge Refugee to Community Healer

Imagine for a moment your childhood memories included living in a bomb shelter for years, watching your 2-year-old sister die in your arms.Imagine being separated from your parents and put in a children’s camp where there was little food and water, and where you were forced to work long hours in the sun.

Imagine spending nights sleeping on a hard bamboo bed with bed bugs and no pillow or blanket in a one-room house with no walls.

Imagine that at the age of 10 you have to run for your life through the jungle, dodging bullets and mines daily and sleeping wherever, eating and drinking anything just to get basic nourishment, sometimes even having to drink water from a pond with dead bodies floating in it.

These childhood memories are not fiction but my own true story as a refugee.

Surviving the war; surviving after the war

I was born in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. A four-year-long carpet-bombing campaign in the skies of Cambodia devastated the country and eventually led to the installation of the Khmer Rouge regime. The war took away my childhood and killed about half a million people and displaced a few million others. The Khmer Rouge starved and killed about 1.7 million people, approximately 21 percent of Cambodia’s entire population.

At just 8 years old I was given the responsibility of taking care of my 2-year-old sister while my parents were sent away to work in their labor camp. My sister got very sick. We had no access to medical care, and she died in my arms. I was so devastated I couldn’t even cry.

After my sister died, I was taken away against my will to a children’s labor camp with hundreds of other children and forced to work long hours with little food and water. The living conditions were so bad that the entire camp was infested with bed bugs, body bugs, and head lice. With no shoes or proper clothing, my body and feet were infected with wounds, and I was unable to see my parents. Sometimes I took huge risks and snuck out of the camp at night, walking miles just to be able to see my mom for a few hours.

The journey of a refugee

When the Vietcong invaded Cambodia in 1979, war broke out again. That’s when my family decided our best chance of surviving was to flee the country. My dad came for me and my other siblings, and we risked our lives crossing the country by foot, running through battle zones, dodging bullets, bombs, and hidden landmines, and trekking through the dense jungles of Cambodia with little food or water. I witnessed hundreds of people die along that traumatic journey. Many people were left behind to die, because we were too weak to carry the loved ones who were too weak to walk.

When we reached the Thailand border, we were stuck there and had to survive by eating whatever fruits or animals we could find. Many people died of starvation, malaria, and other infectious diseases. By the time the UN and other organizations came to rescue us, about half the people living around me had died. Many more continued to die in the crowded refugee camp.

Eventually life got better in the refugee camp. We were given basic food, shelter, clothing, medicine, the freedom to play and make friends, and I finally had the chance to attend school — for the first time — at age 11. I absorbed everything like a sponge, so quickly that I was able to read and write half-way through my first grade. Reading to other children gave me so much joy. At 16, after a few years of high school, I finished my nursing certificate program and was able to help take care of other refugees, which brought me tremendous fulfillment and happiness.

After spending eight years in refugee camps, my family of eight was accepted to the United States. We were settled first in a studio apartment in South Philadelphia and then to a three-bedroom house. At 19, I had to be working right away, but because I had such a desire for education, I decided to attend South Philadelphia High School during the day and work in a chicken factory at night to help support my family. With the help of some wonderful teachers, counselors, and my principal, within two years I was able to graduate with honors and get accepted to the Community College of Philadelphia. I soon started my first job as an interpreter and medical clerk at three Philadelphia Health Center locations.

Becoming an asset to the community

Within 10 years, I was able to earn a college degree, begin a rewarding career, get married, give birth to two beautiful children, and purchase my first home. While working at the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, I was able to help many refugees and immigrants who had been through difficult times like I had. Community members and other stakeholders turned to me for assistance in dealing with complex issues such as runaway children, conflict mediation, and responses to crises in the community. With good connections locally and nationally, I was able to identify and speak on various issues at local, state, and federal levels, and I developed many impactful programs and services for of all ages. I felt like I was on top of the world and truly living the American Dream.

But then the financial crisis hit in 2008. In the next few years many foundations were forced to either cut or freeze their funding to nonprofits, and reimbursements from government agencies were delayed by five or six months. I kept fighting for resources that too often were taken away. I saw the important work of grassroots organizations like the Cambodian Association consistently undervalued. I was forced to cut my employees’ salaries by 50 percent across the board. I cut my own by 75 percent.

At the same time, I was going through a terrible divorce, losing my house, and going broke. It was among the most difficult periods of my life, and I almost reached a breaking point.

I wasn’t comfortable seeking professional help, because I was afraid of being judged. With the help of an elder from my community, I was able to get in touch with my spiritual side and learn Vipassana meditation techniques that remedied my pains — through seeing things as they really are at the moment, understanding what causes misery, and gaining insight into the universal law of impermanence.

Paying it forward

With the support of family and countless others, I survived that difficult period and came out stronger than before. The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services made miracles happen, releasing emergency funds to help us meet payroll and keep the organization going. Foundations and corporations supported our work helping thousands of people in need in our area. After 14 years, I left the Cambodian Association in 2014 as its executive director having restored 76 percent of our revenue and helping more people than ever before.

I realized I needed to pause and take care of myself, so I returned to Cambodia and traveled in other countries in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia I volunteered at a crisis center, helping battered women and victims of sex and human trafficking get help and find hope. That journey, helping other less fortunate than I am, and reconnecting with my homeland, helped me heal in many ways. I was able to accept the traumatic experiences I had as a child and a refugee as important parts of my story that make me who I am today.

I am stronger, happier, and wiser, and very hopeful that I can help many others who have had similar experiences and struggles and ultimately make our community and world a stronger, healthier, and much better place.

I am the true embodiment of the American dream and my story can give hope to anyone coming to this country that absolutely anything is possible here.

Sarorng “Rorng” Sorn is the Director of Immigrant Affairs and Language Access Services at Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services (BHIDS). The above essay is adapted from her remarks at the Faith and Spiritual Affairs 10th annual conference, New Americans: Healing and Resilience, on April 11.

When the Loss Is Confusing, so Is the Grief


Psychologist Tracy Steen was surprised to learn this herself, but she discovered that The Brady Bunch – that iconic ’70s sitcom about a blended family – was a good example of her presentation topic: ambiguous loss.

Steen, whose private practice in Rittenhouse Square focuses on positive psychology and addiction treatment, came to Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services on Wednesday to discuss the kind of grief that leaves many unanswered — and unanswerable — questions. That makes it especially hard for survivors to move on.

How would you feel if your father’s plane disappeared over the ocean or your family jumped on a rickety boat to escape a war?

Sarorng Sorn, director of immigrant affairs and language access services for the agency, had invited Steen to a lunchtime education session. A Cambodian refugee, she thought that many like her suffer because they left their homelands and families in chaos. Some may never know what happened to their relatives or the path that their lives would have taken if they’d been able to stay at home.

The concept of ambiguous loss can also apply to families of people who disappear in war or storms, go away to prison or become estranged and drop off the radar. A different form applies to people who are “there but not there,” those who suffer brain damage, mental illness or addiction that leaves them alive but different.

Steen said the term “ambiguous loss” was coined years ago by Pauline Boss, emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota, but many professionals still have not heard of it.

As for the Bradys, she said the show never mentioned the previous spouses of Mike and Carol Brady. His wife died. Her husband’s absence was never explained. This had to be hard on the kids, who might have wanted to talk about all of their parents.

Then there were the family pets. The girls came into the marriage with a cat named Fluffy whose disappearance was never addressed. The boys had a dog named Tiger who, tragically, was killed on the set. After the brief attempt to replace him failed, the kids were inexplicably petless.

“Tiger was there and then he was not there,” Steen said.

There are, of course, many far more serious examples of deaths made much harder to accept by their circumstances. Steen said the Nazis purposely amplified psychological distress with their Nacht und Nebel (night and fog) directive that made critics disappear.

She said therapists can make things worse by encouraging people to find “closure,” a term that is falling out of favor anyway. Some questions cannot be answered. The key, Steen said, is for people to learn to accept what happened, let go of their old identity and build a new one, and realize that they can still have a full, satisfying life. It also helps to be part of a supportive community.

Steen is a fan of narrative therapy, which encourages victims of ambiguous loss, who are often so “blocked” that they don’t talk about their histories, to tell their stories in detail. The process, she said, helps them to come unstuck and accept what happened.