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OCCHA seeks to include Latinos in a national health survey, addressing health disparities


By Ingrid M. Rivera, Special to La Prensa


ELYRIA, August 29, 2008: Members of the Ohio Latino Health Coalition [Organización Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana, Inc., or OCCHA; see its Web site at: www.youngstownoccha.org] seek to include the Latino voice within a national survey on health-care issues and are addressing the Latino health disparities.


OCCHA, an Ohio non-profit corporation, have taken the discussions to 14 cities across the state. The conversations, to be presented at the national level next year, arrived in Elyria on Friday.

Health professionals of several clinics and representatives of Latino, health agencies addressed a crowd of about 60 people on the Latino health disparities, within Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Conference Center.


Pictured above is keynote speaker Erendira López-García, psychologist at Wright State University, presenting health statistics broken down into various ethnic groups, at the Ohio Latino Health Coalition on August 29, 2008, at LCCC. 


Photos by Ingrid Rivera.


They addressed, through both speeches and group-discussion formats, the diseases prevalent within the Latino community, the barriers preventing Latinos from seeking regular, medical attention and the possible solutions. 


“There is a big health disparity among Hispanics growing at an alarming rate and we want to close that gap,” said Mary Isa Garayua of Youngstown, Ohio and co-founder of OCCHA. “We want to know what is causing that gap. Is it because there is not enough education, outreach? Why do we Latinos wait until we are very sick to go [to the hospital]?” Garayua said.


Garayua, a 13-year colon cancer survivor, said she ignored the signs of cancer and did not seek medical attention immediately. “Health is not a priority among us (Latinos) and it should be,” Garayua said.


All information gathered at the August 29th Friday’s event, as well as the other Ohio cities, will be the Latinos contribution to a national survey to be presented in February of 2009, said Cheryl Boyce, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health. The National Partnership for Action, presenting the national survey, seeks to end all health disparities.


The discussions “will give us a better handle on the health needs of the Latino community. This is a statewide strategic plan that will be presented nationally. It’s (to insure) Latinos are not left out,” Boyce said. The national survey on health needs will include various racial and ethnic groups, Boyce added.


Including that Latino voice in surveys regarding health is crucial because of the Latino health inequalities, speakers at the LCCC event said. They said that within the Latino community, certain diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma are on the rise yet Latinos are not receiving regular medical attention, unlike other ethnic groups.


The goals of the series of “Statewide Conversation on Health Issues” was “to have one voice, to identify what are the health issues affecting the Hispanic community and to take (that information) back to the agencies,” said Victor L. Leandry, Executive Director of El Centro de Servicios Sociales, Inc., Lorain.


Keynote speaker Erendira López-García, psychologist at Wright State University, said depression, anxiety, chemical or drug abuse and dependency, suicide, and domestic violence are the mental health issues most prevalent within the Latino community. López-García, of Mexican descent, said only one in 20 Latinos diagnosed with a mental health disorder see the mental health specialist regularly.



Lydia Alejandro and the OCCHA 2004 Survey
OCCHA co-founder Lydia Alejandro said that too often Latinos are left out of statewide and national surveys surrounding health issues. The coalition members created a statewide survey back in 2004 and are collecting information from the Latino community for a new national health survey with the same primary goal: to include the Latino voice.


Findings of their 2004 health issues survey found an increasing number of Latinos have multiple serious and chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The report also found there is a low percentage of Latinos who exercise regularly and eat nutritious foods.

Alejandro, of Mexican descent and who resides in Fremont, said their survey found the barriers to regular health care to be lack of Spanish-speaking doctors and Spanish interpreters, health care insurance plans, and transportation. Culturally insensitive clinics may also keep Latino patients away, Alejandro said.

Members of El Dorado Senior Center.

At the event, the crowd was divided into four groups, to discuss how to overcome the barriers for seeking health care on a regular basis. The groups concluded: having more diverse medical boards, training doctors to be more culturally sensitive, providing more Spanish-speaking doctors or Spanish interpreters, assisting in the cost of health care and transportation, educating young, Latinos about health care professions, and even making a hospital waiting room more culturally welcoming (by including Spanish publications, for example) would help Latinos seek regular medical attention.


Present at the discussions were members of El Dorado Senior Center. One member, Elpidio Amaro, 74, of Lorain and of Puerto Rican descent, said he attended the event to become more informed about the health issues affecting Latinos. Another El Dorado member, Awilda Bracero, 67, of Lorain and of Puerto Rican descent, said “There is a need for more doctors that speak Spanish.”


According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies’ 2002 Unequal Treatment Report, minorities are less likely than whites to receive health services. The report found stereotyping, biases and uncertainty, or lack of cultural knowledge, can lead to unequal treatment. [Visit: http://erc.msh.org/mainpage.cfm?file=7.4.0.htm&module=provider&language=English]


Also, according to a 2001 Kaiser Permanente survey, Latinos tend to have lower mortality rates but higher morbidity rates than the rest of the U.S. population. The report concluded the management of morbidity and chronic diseases becomes a crucial area to address within the Latino community.


And according to a 2000 survey of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Latinos living in the United States are almost twice as likely to die from diabetes than non-Latino whites and have higher rates of high blood pressure and obesity than non-Latino whites.


“These [conversations] are very important. There are so many health needs in the Latino community. Collaboratively, we can start addressing these issues,” Alejandro said. “We [Latinos] have a fatalistic attitude or we leave it to chance. We say ‘well, whatever happens, happens.’ You have to know that you can take control of your health. We don’t have to leave it up to chance,” Alejandro concluded.





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