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Improving outreach to the Hispanic community is critical for health and business

A comprehensive strategy is needed to turn challenges into opportunities

Changing demographics and the Affordable Care Act are making healthcare providers realize they need to figure out how to reach the Hispanic/Latino community in order for their businesses to flourish, to help keep national healthcare costs down and to improve the health of one of the largest and fastest growing populations in the country. Trouble is, they’re at a loss as how to do that.

“In the healthcare industry at large, Hispanics are viewed as a problem and not as an opportunity,” said Glenn Llopis, founder and CEO of the Center for Hispanic Leadership.

[See also: Immigration reform may solve long-term care worker shortage ]

But that’s a situation that can be rectified if both the healthcare community and the Hispanic/Latino community each make an effort to bridge the gap, he said.

For example, healthcare organizations should go beyond offering culturally- and linguistically-appropriate access, Llopis said. They also need to create a comprehensive strategy that encompasses not only a plan for better patient relations but invites in and makes use of Hispanics/Latinos in every aspect of the business, from board members to support staff.

Hispanics/Latinos already in the healthcare industry can become more involved in their organizations to make them aware of what Hispanics/Latinos have to offer, he said. And they can serve as mentors to others already in the industry and those seeking careers.

Bridging the gap, even within areas with high Hispanic/Latino populations, is going to take some effort, as Amanda Aguirre, a former state senator in Arizona, knows first hand.

[See also: Care costs for undocumented immigrants absorbed by hospitals]

As CEO and president of the Regional Center for Border Health, which serves Arizona’s Yuma County where more than 60 percent of the population is Hispanic/Latino, two of the biggest challenges Aguirre faces are finding bilingual, culturally-sensitive workers and educating the Hispanic/Latino community about wellness and prevention.

She has developed two strategies for coping with each of those challenges.

“In the Hispanic culture, sometimes somebody gets sick, you go to grandma, get a recipe. (Then get) your mother’s recipe and eat soup, and the last resort is OK go and see the doctor,” said Aguirre. She and her team have been trying to change that by engaging families.

“The whole education has to be done at the family level,” she said. “It’s bringing in everybody else in the family to understand why mom or dad has diabetes and how we can prevent that from happening to the rest of the family.”

To do that, she uses family care coordinators. “They’re my first line of marketing services,” she chuckled, “because they’re the ones that are going to convince the families in a cultural way why primary care is important and how we engage the rest of the family in accessing healthcare.”

To solve the issue of finding bilingual, culturally-sensitive workers, Aguirre has begun “growing our own.”

In 2007, she needed bilingual, culturally-sensitive medical assistants. She could find people who were bilingual and culturally sensitive, but they didn’t have the training she needed.

She looked at her problem as an opportunity. The Regional Center for Border Health became a licensed allied health vocational training center. She goes to local high schools and colleges to recruit students who might be interested in healthcare but aren’t aware of the opportunities available to them. The health center has also partnered with HOSA-Future Health Professionals, a national student organization sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and the Health Science Education Division of the Association for Career and Technical Education to encourage local students to go into the health professions.

“Sometimes people feel that ‘I’m not smart enough to go into the medical field’ and they think that the medical field is only the medical school (but) there are so many other related careers in healthcare that are needed,” she said.

As more Hispanics/Latinos become involved in the business of healthcare, especially at the executive level, their cultural influence will impact how healthcare is delivered, said Susan Cordts, senior vice president of CURO Healthcare Solutions, an operator of seven hospice brands based in the South and Southwest.

“They’re very much about their family members being involved in decisions, which really changes your entire means of delivery,” she said. Their culture is communal and more personal – directions healthcare reform is already pushing the industry toward with its emphasis on team-based care models like patient-centered medical homes.

“Customers have choice, so if you want to serve the Hispanic population … you have to figure out how to position your business to be attractive to them,” she said.


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