5 Ways to Resolve Latino Healthcare Inequities

By Silvia Posada

As a Latina, an immigrant and a single mom who had to find her way in a new country, I stand side-by-side with my forever-loved Hispanic community that opened its heart to me and many others with candor and exuberance. Hispanics make up more than 50 percent of the demographics of the Bronx in New York. Its demographic transformation began with the migration of the Puerto Rican community in the 1940s and when other non-Hispanic ethnicities left the county—subsequently making the Bronx predominantly Latino.

Today, this community has diversified, shifting from predominantly Puerto Rican to mainly Dominicans in present day. During my time in the Bronx and with more than 20 years in the health care industry, I have been saddened by the reality of the county’s chronic poverty and a lack of access to social support, forcing a community to endure distress and scarcity of basic needs. Why is it still one of the poorest congressional districts even though it is surrounded by such wealth? It is time to build off this community’s resilience to ensure that its residents get equal and fair access to quality food, permanent shelter and other social resources. 

It is no secret that healthcare inequities exist in the United States. This is defined simply as differences in healthcare that are linked to racial, ethnic, gender, age, social, demographic or economic disadvantages. These disparities in healthcare harm individuals and communities, as well as the nation as a whole. Ethnic and racial health disproportions not only weaken communities, but also the entire healthcare system.

Statistically, adult Latinos are more likely to suffer from asthma, diabetes, liver disease, cancer and other health conditions than their non-Latino counterparts. In fact, a recent survey shows that the biggest health issues and concerns for Latinos were diabetes and cancer. For Latino children, the risk for infant mortality, as well as the likelihood of suffering from asthma, obesity, diabetes and depression are considerably higher.

While healthcare spending totals more than $2.5 trillion annually and continues to increase every year, racial minorities, as well as additional at-risk populations, suffer disproportionately from worse health outcomes. Common inequities result from disparities in access to health insurance, healthcare and more, leaving these groups to face increased healthcare costs, more work absences due to illness and decreased income.

While the United States healthcare system is among the best in the world, it is not always accessible, affordable or available consistently. Medical personnel shortages, language barriers, the cost of medication and a lack of health literacy intensify the inequities and makes managing chronic illnesses more of a challenge. These disparities negatively impact communities and the country, but by leveraging social determinants for health (SDoH), the country can resolve Latino healthcare inequities successfully.

Provide Easy Access to Comprehensive Quality Medical Care
The first step in providing easy access to comprehensive quality medical care is addressing the critical shortage of healthcare providers—primary doctors, dentists and mental health professionals. While the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage to many racial and ethnic minorities, the high costs of deductibles, monthly premiums and copayments continue to create obstacles for getting comprehensive quality care. No one should ever have to decide between getting the needed medical care, buying prescriptions and critical expenses like housing and food.

Bringing multi-specialty practices to areas across the country can help chronically ill community members gain faster and easier access to crucial care. Creating ease of access that requires little in the way of travel expenses means comprehensive quality medical care—primary and specialty care—in neighborhoods and communities.

Address More than Just Healthcare
In addition to providing easy access to comprehensive quality medical care, resolving Latino healthcare inequities requires addressing more than just healthcare. Food insecurity is one such crucial area.  Addressing areas like these requires assessing local populations and communities regularly. Many areas of the country are food insecure and healthcare practices, as well as local businesses, can partner with community organizations to provide necessities in their neighborhoods. Healthcare providers can also address other needs, such as helping to coordinate care, aiding in workforce development, guiding WIC and SNAP enrollment and more.

Represent Communities with a Diverse, Bilingual Workforce
While the United States is well-known for comprehensive quality healthcare, medical professionals should represent the communities they serve to better connect with patients. A diverse, bilingual staff and providers can better communicate with patients and understand their healthcare needs. This is especially important among the Latino community as it better enables providers in the diagnosis and treatment of health concerns for those with Latino heritage.

To better represent communities with a diverse, bilingual workforce, societies should work to empower minority students by giving them the information, resources and opportunities to seek and attain health-focused careers.

Provide an Informed, Aware Workforce
Providing cultural sensitivity training for all staff and providers is a big step toward ensuring effective communication with patients. In addition to breaking down language barriers, healthcare professionals and their staff must learn to be informed, aware and responsive to the feelings and circumstances of those from other people groups. Doing so can help patients better understand their diagnoses and the steps required for their care.  Often, even minor changes can improve perceptions, increase trust and enhance engagement between patients and providers to better improve the quality of overall care.

Partner with Local Elected Officials to Promote Health Awareness
Lastly, partnering with local elected officials and community leaders can promote healthier habits and awareness thus helping to resolve Latino (and others) healthcare inequities. Joining in partnership with community leaders on events that promote health awareness, proper nutrition and fitness, healthier habits, as well as healthcare screenings (cancer, diabetes, blood pressure, etc.) and awareness events (HIV/AIDS, Vaccines, Obesity, Diabetes) can go a long way in educating communities. With a small group of dedicated healthcare professionals, elected officials and community leaders, initiatives can be implemented to bring events and awareness to each community and improve everyone’s overall health. 

Ultimately, elevating Latino’s worth and bridging these healthcare equity gaps will fuel the burning desire of a community that wants to be healthy, live comfortably and empower the community to advocate for a brighter future for themselves and their families.

Silvia Posada is Senior Vice President, Network Development, for Essen Health Care, one of the largest private comprehensive multi-specialty medical groups in the Bronx.

Sources:

https://lulac.org/programs/health/health_disparities/