ROCHESTER, NY, July 26, 2023 - Members of the area’s fast-growing Latino community have been ignored, silenced and marginalized, leading to glaring health inequities.
That is the message of a new report in English and Spanish released today by Common Ground Health and representatives of the Latino Health Coalition. The report is titled Unheard: How Silencing Latino Voices Harms Latino Health Equity/Ignorado: Cómo el silenciamiento de las voces latinas perjudica la equidad en la salud de los latinos.
The report is the third in a series of health equity reports released by Common Ground. Overloaded: The Heavy Toll of Poverty on Our Region’s Health was released in 2019 and looked at how poverty kills. In 2021, The Color of Health: The Devastating Toll of Racism on Black Lives traced how racism harms health equity. The new report, Unheard / Ignorado, tells the story of Latino health equity through the experiences of Latino residents.
“For too long, our concerns have been silenced,” said Rudy Rivera, chair of the Latino Health Coalition, which is convened by Common Ground. “This report helps us ensure people are listening when we call for change.”
The report notes that the Latino population in the Finger Lakes has nearly doubled from 2000 to 2020. In fact, the region would have lost population if it wasn’t for the growth in Latino residents. This growth included an estimated 8,000 new Puerto Rican residents who arrived in the region after 2017’s Hurricane Maria. It also includes others from many different Latin American countries. On average, Latino residents are younger and have fewer resources than other residents of the Finger Lakes region.
“When you think about Latino health, you have to think about the nexus of poverty,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground. “Our data shows that Latinos are three times more likely to live in poverty. Poverty and uninsurance lead to a lack of access to health care and health inequities. Quite simply, poverty kills.”
Latinos face worse outcomes for diabetes, high blood pressure and colorectal cancer, when compared to White non-Latino patients with these conditions. The report outlines how health inequities such as these, stem from Latinos being ignored, silenced and marginalized.
Stark examples came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Latinos had trouble accessing key information in Spanish and many worked low-wage “frontline essential worker” jobs that put them in harm’s way. As a result, in the first 18 months of the pandemic, Latino patients were hospitalized of COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate and died at two times the rate of White non-Latino residents.
“Effective communication is essential to achieving health equity – not just during a crisis, but every day. The pandemic reinforced the critical need to continue building strong relationships and trust between policymakers and all members of our community,” Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health, said. “Working to overcome challenges such as language, disability or lack of education is simply not optional when it comes to keeping our entire community healthy and safe.”
The report outlines how Latinos’ needs have been ignored due to a lack of bilingual health care workers and culturally responsive health care.
“We see people every day in our clinics in the Finger Lakes who struggle with health conditions that are made worse when they cannot understand what providers and specialists are saying to them about their health,” said Mary Zelazny, CEO of Finger Lakes Community Health. “Building relationships and trust is a key step providers can take to improve health equity.”
Additional outreach is needed to address those Latinos who live in Rochester at the heart of the region’s opioid epidemic. Fatal overdoses have skyrocketed for people of all races and ethnicities, including Latinos.
“On North Clinton Avenue in Rochester, Latinos have found opportunity and community,” said Julio Jordan, vice-chair of the Latino Health Coalition. “But it is also a neighborhood that has been harmed by redlining and the opioid epidemic. Latino residents have to deal with the impact of the region’s drug epidemic in their neighborhood on a daily basis.”
These adverse environments have taken a toll on Latino children, who report mental health issues and Adverse Childhood Experiences far too often. These problems are compounded by a severe shortage of bilingual mental health providers.
“No one wants to have an interpreter in the room when they are sharing with a therapist,” Angelica Perez-Delgado, president and CEO of Ibero American Action League. “We must train and support bilingual mental health professionals.”
The report lists calls to action developed to drive improvement.
- Promote better data collection methodologies of ethnicity data.
- Develop and assess all health-improvement interventions to ensure accessibility, adoption and impact for the Latino community.
- Standardize the criteria for language access and cultural competence that every agency can follow as minimum requirements beyond federal laws and obligations.
- Promote policies to ensure the hiring of more Latino doctors and health care professionals.
- Advocate for the creation and enforcement of employment policies that fairly treat workers regardless of citizenship status.
- Address mental-health concerns expressed by the Latino community and engage mental-health and substance-use recovery providers in dialogue with the Latino community about mental health/substance use disorder and their impact on patient health and their families.
The report was supported by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
About the Latino Health Coalition
The Latino Health Coalition works to improve health equity for the Latino community in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region. The long-standing advisory group has addressed a variety of health concerns for Latinos, including youth risk behaviors, language barriers, economic stress and cultural competency. The coalition began as a task force in 1998 and was officially established in 2007. It has a proud history of providing community data on health outcomes for Latinos.
About Common Ground Health
Founded in 1974, Common Ground is the health research and planning organization for the Rochester-Finger Lakes region. We bring together leaders from health care, education, business, government and other sectors to find common ground on health challenges. Learn more at commongroundhealth.org.