Fewer than half of working-age Hispanic residents of New Orleans saw a doctor for medical care in the past two years, as language, cost, transportation and other issues proved to be barriers to accessing health care, according to a report released Tuesday by Puentes New Orleans, the Committee for a Better New Orleans and the New Orleans Health Department.
The report, the result of a survey of 279 Hispanics living in New Orleans, reflects a growing national problem that has become more apparent in New Orleans as the Latino community has grown, particularly since Hurricane Katrina.
The report, which calls for more interpreting and translation services at health care centers and greater outreach by health care providers to the Latino community, emphasizes the tasks facing local political and civic leaders as they try to build a more inclusive community.
Nearly 21,000 New Orleans residents identify themselves as Hispanic, the fastest-growing population segment in the city, according to the Data Center, which based its analysis on U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2000 census and 2013 population estimates. Using that figure, the new survey reached about 1 percent of the local Hispanic population. But officials said it will be used to plan how health care services can be improved for the community.
“In order to best serve all New Orleanians, we need to first understand what these communities are and what their needs are,” city Health Director Charlotte Parent said. “We now have vital, detailed information regarding the health status and barriers to health resources for the Latinos in our city.”
The health survey was an outgrowth of a general survey of the Hispanic community conducted in 2013 by the Committee for a Better New Orleans. The Health Department encouraged CBNO and Puentes to follow it up with a study specifically on the issue of health.
Puentes and CBNO distributed copies of the survey at churches, English as a Second Language classes and neighborhoods with high concentrations of Latinos, such as Mid-City, between October 2013 and January 2014. The majority of respondents were between the ages of 25 and 40, and nearly all were immigrants. Only 13 percent said they were able to read English.
The survey results were complemented by two focus groups, made up of 19 participants, who provided more context and detailed answers to the survey questions.
About 45 percent of survey respondents said they had seen a doctor for medical care in the past two years. Another 21.5 percent said they had visited with a doctor in the past three to five years. But a quarter of respondents said they had never gone to a doctor for a check-up or care in New Orleans or elsewhere.
Primary reasons given for not accessing health care were language barriers, not knowing where to go, inadequate health care information, a lack of community outreach, the high cost of medical services and high uninsured rates. Focus group participants also said they did not feel welcome at clinics and other community spaces, Puentes Executive Director Carolina Hernandez said.
The study recommends the creation of a five-year plan for expanding access to health care for Hispanic residents, including establishing more clinics and programs that specifically address the health concerns of the Hispanic community and expanding outreach into the Hispanic community. The report also recommends that 211, a state-run phone number that provides health information in several languages including Spanish, partner with 311, the city’s better-known information hotline, to improve language access.
The report also makes recommendations about ways to modify existing programs, provide better access to recreational opportunities and healthy foods, and promote connections among residents, neighbors and local government.
Puentes and the Health Department already are making an effort to tackle the “low-hanging fruit” exposed by the study. For instance, Puentes, with a grant from Chevron and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, has produced six dual Spanish and English sign packages to install at clinics around New Orleans. It will be seeking donations to pay for additional signs, and clinics will be able to apply to have their signs made bilingual at no cost.
In the long term, Puentes will seek ways to increase the number of Spanish speakers providing health care services around the city, Hernandez said.
A language access investigation conducted by Puentes revealed that while a majority of hospitals and clinics offered in-person interpreting for Spanish speakers, such resources often were not available by telephone. Some clinics hung up on callers or said they could not service non-English speakers, Hernandez said.
City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell intends to introduce a resolution early in 2015 that could help with that effort by introducing a wide range of policies that would make New Orleans more welcoming to Hispanic and other foreign residents. The resolution, for instance, would support issuance of municipal ID cards for people, like immigrants, who often have trouble receiving government-issued IDs. It may also set a goal for the number of Spanish-speaking police officers and call for establishing a welcoming center for non-English speakers at City Hall.