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OCHLA: Latino health disparities, priorities discussed

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

Some Latino health leaders had an opportunity to provide feedback on health-related issues afflicting the Northwest Ohio community during a roundtable discussion with representatives from the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (OCHLA).


15 people who work with Toledo-area Latino families at various health agencies attended the meeting held at Adelante, Inc., 520 Broadway, on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Their responses will help shape the workshop agenda at the third annual Ohio Latino Health Summit, to be held Friday, August 8, 2014, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Mt. Carmel West Medical Staff Building and Nursing School in Columbus.


The regional health conversation was one of five held across the state on issues impacting the quality of health care and health access for Hispanic Ohioans. Other meetings were held previously in Lorain, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.


Medical interpreting continues to be a big topic of discussion, as there remains a shortage of bilingual medical staff to assist Spanish-speaking patients. As a result, cultural competence also looms large as a related problem.


Lair Marin-Marcum, OCHLA community liaison, explained that Latino patients need the right medical interpretation to be treated properly and know their rights in a healthcare setting. She stated that health professionals in every region of Ohio cited it as a problem.

Adelante Executive Director Guisselle Mendoza told the group that it is likely the agency’s entire staff will be bilingual by the end of August because of the growing number of Spanish-speaking families moving to the Toledo area who use their services.


“The need is getting bigger and we can’t just push it on one or two people on staff,” she said.


It has gotten to the point where Adelante staff must take a holistic approach to aid Spanish-speaking clients. For example, Wendy Avina, who runs the agency’s Nosotras program to help pregnant women obtain prenatal care, explained that a bilingual staff member not only accompanies clients to doctor and special appointments to interpret, but also helps them to sign up for CareNet to help pay for health services.

Benito Lucio


“The two biggest barriers for clients are language and transportation,” said Ms. Avina.


Anita Martínez-Folger, from NAMI of Greater Toledo, lamented that “not much has changed” with medical interpreting in Ohio, stating that there is not one bilingual psychiatrist in the entire state to help with the prevalence of Latino mental illness, which often goes either ignored, undiagnosed, or untreated in many families.


“The stigma is very real. It’s beyond words,” she said, explaining that many Latino families don’t know the symptoms or don’t want to admit a loved one has a mental disorder of some sort.


Ms. Martínez-Folger also stated that Latino youth have the highest suicide rate of any ethnic group in the U.S.


Other health agencies also reported similar efforts to help Spanish-speaking families navigate the complex requirements of healthcare safety net programs for low-income households, such as the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and CareNet. Many are forced to provide interpreting services at every step of the process, because of the lack of bilingual staff at healthcare and health insurance-related agencies.


“Health disparities, in a large sense, are a byproduct of social determinants in health,” said Dennis Hicks, minority health coordinator for the Toledo-Lucas Co. Health Dept. “They don’t spring up on their own. They’re the result of education disparities, income disparities, housing disparities, and all of those things combined.”


Increased drug and alcohol use, particularly among Latino youth, continues to be a concern. Heather Cruz, deputy director of community programs at Pathstone, spoke of a recent prevention program the agency held for Latino teens.


“It’s very obvious that they’re seeing it at the school level and among their peers,” she said. “We were surprised at their level of knowledge, the lingo, what was available, and the questions they were asking gave the impression that they were exposed to it. Whether that was at the school or family level is what’s in question, because we’ve definitely seen an increase in drug abuse among our adult clients and it’s becoming more of an issue.”


Ms. Cruz stated one client died from an overdose of pain pills and heroin. Three others had to enter treatment programs for abuse of prescription pain medication.


Benito Lucio, retired from the Ohio Dept. of Job and Family Services, sounded a warning that pain pill addiction in Ohio is leading to heroin abuse.


“It starts with pain pills—and when that runs out, they turn to heroin because it’s so much cheaper,” he said.


But getting treatment for drug addiction also remains a stigma within Latino families.


“It comes down to that type of mentality where it’s considered a weakness instead of recognizing there’s a need,” said Ms. Cruz.


She also stated agencies must adapt their teaching methods about drug abuse to counteract the information readily available to teens via smartphones and other devices.


“I don’t think scare tactics work anymore,” said Ms. Cruz.

Some of the agencies lamented that doing a better job takes money. Lucio, who’s now under contract with OCHLA to help Latino groups seek funding, admonished the group, telling them that “there is a great deal of money out there” in Ohio. But he stated other organizations are in Columbus actively asking for that funding.


“We’re not at the table and that’s one of my biggest frustrations,” he said. “You need to knock on those doors.”


Lucio also encouraged the Latino organizations to get more active in the political process, explaining there are an estimated 180,000 Latinos eligible to vote in Ohio. He pointed out Gov. John Kasich won that race in 2010 by just 77,000 votes.


“Guess what folks? We can swing an election,” he said. “That’s why your voice and your participation are important.”


He also encouraged the Latino groups to partner with local churches to advocate for faith-based funding from the state.


“How many Latinos are applying for that? Zero. We’re not even at the table,” he said. “That money is there. Everybody else is using it, but Latinos are not using it.”


The others who attended the meeting also included: Georgina Alvarez of OCHLA, Linda Parra of Nuestra Gente Community Projects, Marriah Kornowa of Molina Healthcare, Meyling Ruiz of Adelante, Dora Cortes and Heather Cruz of Pathstone, and Veronica Amézquita of WIC.  


The Ohio Latino Health Summit started in 2012 as a partnership between OCHLA and LULAC Ohio to address regional health disparities, allow Latino health professionals to network and interact, as well as provide workshops on best practices to address common health-related problems statewide. Last year, the summit drew 200 people to attend. The theme of this year’s summit is “Building and Preserving Our Health.”

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/01/14 12:38:35 -0700.




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