Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Community News:

New NCLR Study Finds Hispanics in the South are Reluctant to Use Health Care System

Lack of Access, Information is a Public Health Concern

Atlanta, GA - A report released (this month) by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) finds that, contrary to conventional belief and despite the explosive growth of the population, Hispanics in the South are underutilizing public heath care services throughout the region. The report, The Health of Latino Communities in the South: Challenges and Opportunities, includes the perspectives of health care professionals and members of the community and notes that Hispanics are reluctant to use public health care programs and facilities due to barriers such as lack of information about available services; lack of insurance; insufficient numbers of bilingual, bicultural personnel in the healthcare arena; and disparate treatment.

"The fact that many Hispanics are intimidated enough by the health system that they are not seeking care should trouble anyone who is concerned about public health. These adults and their families are an important share of the workers and taxpayers of the South, and the region's economy depends on their well-being," stated Janet Murguia, NCLR Executive Director and COO.

NCLR conducted the study to gain new knowledge about the rapidly-growing, young, and increasingly significant Latino population in the South. "Ensuring the integration of Latinos into the social fabric of the South is critical to the region, and we can only do that if we understand the community and its needs," observed Murguia. With financial support from the Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NCLR partnered with four highly-respected community-based organizations (CBOs) with experience in the health care field - El Pueblo, Inc. (Raleigh, NC); Latin American Association (Atlanta, GA); Latino Memphis (Memphis, TN); and Southeast Georgia Communities Project (Lyons, GA) - to gather information from community members and health care service providers.

NCLR's research and analysis suggest that a serious information gap prevents the Latino community from accessing available health services and hinders the ability of health care professionals to provide Latinos with adequate care. Specifically, the report's key findings show that:

There is a lack of knowledge about available health care service providers within the Hispanic community.
Health care facilities and professionals often do not have the adequate linguistic and cultural skills necessary to treat members of the Hispanic community.
Among Hispanics, there is a lack of trust of the medical system, which is sometimes amplified by immigration status.
Many Hispanics experience disparate treatment when they visit health care facilities, including longer waits and denial of service.
"The issues raised across the region were remarkably consistent, regardless of which state Latinos live in. Many without insurance are unable to get help due to the high cost of care. Struggling to learn English, others are daunted by the lack of information in Spanish and are unable to find anyone in the public health arena who understands or can communicate with them. People shouldn't have to resort to over-the-counter medicine or the botánica when they need medical attention," stated Andrea Bazán-Manson, NCLR Board Member and Executive Director of El Pueblo, Inc., one of the community-based partners in the study.

But the report also notes that strategies are within reach to improve information, access, and care available to Hispanics. "There are some rays of hope - partnerships between government, public health organizations, and CBOs can serve as models for other communities eager to address the challenges raised in the report," advised Murguia.

The report proposes detailed recommendations to educate the Latino community on available health care, and to prepare members of the medical profession to be responsive to the needs of this diverse population. Specifically:

The public and private sectors should collaborate on a comprehensive media-based campaign aimed at Latinos to increase awareness on public health issues.
Government agencies should establish mechanisms to ensure that appropriate language services, required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, are available when needed.
Regional nonprofit organizations should train other CBOs on community health education and outreach techniques.
Medical professionals, with help from regional CBOs, should create cultural competency and continuing education courses to help doctors increase their knowledge of culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
Latinos should play an active role in improving the health of their communities, through education, advocacy, and research.
"Hispanics need and want what many other Americans take for granted - that if they or their kids get sick, they will be able to find the means to get well. Given that Hispanics are an increasingly critical part of the region's economy, we urge public health officials in the South to partner with the Hispanic community to ensure that all residents of the South are able to access and receive health care services," concluded Murguia.

The full report, The Health of Latino Communities in the South: Challenges and Opportunities, can be accessed on the Internet at www.nclr.org.

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