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May 2008 Issue

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Three-Way Partnership Breaks Down Language Barriers for Better Health

By Katie Pence
Published May 2008

Tiffiny Diers, MD, says understanding and improving health care for the local Latino community is very important to her. And it’s not only a professional interest.

Her husband, Fernando Martinez, is Puerto Rican.

“When I first returned to Cincinnati in 1997, I rarely heard Spanish being spoken around town,” she says. “I wasn’t sure there was enough support locally to raise our children to be bilingual and bicultural.”

But after 10 years, Diers says she changed her tune.

“There is a growing and vibrant Latino community here in Cincinnati,” she says. “And from a doctor’s viewpoint, we are seeing an increasing number of Latino patients in our inpatient and outpatient sites.”

In order to better serve the health needs of this growing population, Diers, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at UC, is working with colleagues at University Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as well as with community-based leaders to create the Latino Health Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati, an academic and community partnership aimed at improving the health of the local Latino community.

“The collaborative seeks to improve the cultural competence of direct clinical service to Latino patients, to conduct research using community-based methods and to educate our students about the local Latino community and national issues in Latino health,” Diers says.

The effort received $20,000 from the UC Faculty Development Council to support development of expertise in these areas.

The collaborative works in partnership with the Initiative on Poverty, Justice and Health, a UC faculty group that focuses on developing educational experiences for residents and medical students in public health related topics such as the impact of poverty on health, health literacy and cross-cultural communication.

Many Latinos in the community do not seek medical attention because of the language and cultural barriers, Diers adds.

“There is fear in the Hispanic community that visits to health care settings may result in immigrations investigations,” she says, “and they are afraid their families may be put at risk.”

The collaborative’s initial focus has been connecting with the local Latino community to better understand issues pertaining to health.

Members of the collaborative presented at the “Somos Unicos, Somos Latinos” (“We are Unique, We are Latino”) conference last October, which addressed, in Spanish, how to make the most of a visit to your doctor.

They collected pilot data on barriers to health care and community priorities for health projects. Members have also conducted community-based research with Harmony Garden, a non-profit research foundation devoted to the health of girls.

The collaborative is also working with Santa Maria and Su Casa, agencies, which both provide critical services to the Latino community, to train organizations to provide culturally competent care to Latino patients and provide health screening at local health fairs.

Diers says the collaborative recently presented to the Hispanic Coalition, a local networking organization promoting partnerships among people working with the Latino community.

“It is inspiring to see so many dedicated individuals working in support of Latinos in Cincinnati and across the state,” she says.

Diers says the next step for the collaborative is to offer more educational experiences for UC students and residents.

“We have already presented at a number of venues for medical students and residents,” she says, noting that she and her colleagues have been working on a pilot rotation in Latino health.

“Ultimately, members of the collaborative would like to develop rotations for medical students and residents that include a local cultural immersion experience.

“We see so much interest in international health, and while those experiences are certainly eye-opening, there is much to learn from our local community as well.”

Diers says there are many opportunities for this work to grow within UC’s newly formed master’s of public health program in the public health sciences department.

“Our model of academic and community collaboration has the potential to significantly benefit the health of Latinos locally
while training physicians and student physicians to seek partnerships and better serve patients,” she says.

Founding members of the Latino Health Collaborative include Diers, Lisa Vaughn,

PhD, UC pediatrics department; Candace Ireton, MD, UC family medicine department; Liliana Guyler-Rojas, PhD, Harmony Garden; Joan Murdock, PhD, UC College of Allied Health Sciences; Radha Reddy, MD, UC obstetrics and gynecology department; Margie Gerena-Lewis, MD, UC hematology-oncology division; Vanessa Nino, University Hospital director of interpreting services; Ligia Gomez, UC romance languages department and director of the Hispanic Coalition; and Denise Britigan, UC health education

doctoral student.

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