Hispanic health care lacking

by Tim Sturrock

Hispanics, Minnesota’s fastest growing minority population, receive less health care than any other ethnic group in Minnesota, according to a report released Tuesday by the University’s School of Public Health.

The study used focus groups to determine why and how Hispanics are not receiving the health care they need.

Lynn Blewett, an assistant professor at the school, said language barriers, a distrust of government and misunderstanding of the system led to the problem.

Many Hispanic immigrants are accustomed to government-provided health care and have trouble navigating an unfamiliar and complex bureaucracy common in the American health care industry, she said.

Even if they are eligible for a state program, she said, a lack of information in Spanish makes understanding the system impossible. Because of these difficulties, many Hispanics put off seeking health care until they are in bad health overall or an emergency arises.

The study did not ask those surveyed if they were legal residents. Blewett said researchers wanted to avoid scaring respondents, who might refuse an interview or skew the study with dishonest answers.

This fear of government and of deportation, she said, motivates many legal and illegal residents to avoid the paperwork necessary to obtain coverage.

The research expands preliminary findings from another study done by the school, which found that 17.6 percent of Hispanics don’t have health care coverage. However, the national percentage is twice as high.

Fourteen and a half percent of blacks and 15.9 percent of American Indians don’t have health care coverage in Minnesota.

In contrast, only 4.4 percent of whites do not have health insurance.

Blewett said her study focused on Hispanics because their population grew 166 percent between 1990 and 2000, faster than any other ethnic group, according to U.S. census figures. The census data predicted Hispanics will surpass blacks as the largest ethnic group in the state by 2005, if they haven’t already.

Blewett said the gap between the population boom and the supplemental services provided by the state to serve Hispanics must be closed.

Blewett said she hopes the study’s recommendations will help close that gap. Suggestions include establishing state-funded “welcome centers” around the state to provide Hispanics with information on health care, and performing preventative screening.

Claudia Fuentes, director of Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research, which assisted in the study, said the lack of service was surprising. “There’s several local models that work. They’ve dealt with the issues for some time,” she said.

She said non-English-speaking Hispanics must often drive from rural communities to the metro area to use interpreters, and smaller clinics have more trouble adapting to change than larger systems.

Marie Maes-Voreis, clinic manager of the Family Medical Center, said in the last four years her clinic’s Hispanic clientele grew from 5 percent to 80 percent, corresponding with a change in the neighborhood surrounding the clinic.

She said her clinic’s employees spend a lot of time educating patients on the health care system, and she has had to hire a number of interpreters and bilingual employees to meet the demand.