Although Andres Ramirez didn’t visit the doctor very often when he lived in Mexico, he now goes to the Chattanooga Homeless Health Care Clinic at least once every three months to treat his diabetes.
“Part of it is our culture,” said the 35-year-old, who has lived in the United States for 14 years. “We are not used to going to the doctor unless we feel very sick.
“As Hispanics, we don’t go to the doctor regularly because most of the time we come here to work and we say we don’t have time for the doctor,” he said. “Which shouldn’t be the case. We need to take care of ourselves more.”
Twenty-seven percent of Hispanic adults in the United States — 30 percent in the South — lack a regular health care provider, according to a report released today by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Similar to the general U.S. population, Hispanic males, the young and the less educated are less likely to have primary health care providers, according to the report, “Hispanics and Health Care in the United States: Access, Information and Knowledge.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously reported that, compared to other groups, Hispanics are twice as likely as non-Hispanic blacks and three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to lack regular health care providers.
“When it comes to Latinos, what may appear to be the well-known effects of socioeconomic inequality on health care may also be conditioned by unique social, cultural and economic circumstances confronting both Hispanic immigrants and Hispanics born in the United States,” the report said.
The Hispanic population in the United States has more than doubled in the past 15 years and is now estimated to have reached 45 million, said Debra Perez, senior program officer for the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an organization whose stated goal is to improve American health care.
“If we are going to design effective public health approaches in the future, it’s critical that we understand how Hispanics use health resources and where they turn for health information they trust,” she said.
About 41 percent of those surveyed who lack a regular health care provider said the principal reason is because “they are seldom sick.”
The hardest part is to get Hispanics to go to the doctor for the first time, said Sylvia Rangel, a community health worker who works with the Hispanic population in Chattanooga.
“Once they go and find a place they like, they generally continue to go,” she said.
Rogelina Garcia, a native of Mexico, said she doesn’t go to the doctor as often because of the language barrier and lack of money.
“Back in Mexico I would go often because the doctors spoke my language,” she said, speaking in Spanish. “Here, sometimes there’s not an interpreter available, and it is hard to explain what’s wrong.
“There’s also the factor of health insurance. It’s really expensive to go to the doctor and, if you don’t even have a job, how are you going to pay for medical care?” she asked.
About 42 percent of the Latinos who don’t have health insurance lack a usual health care provider, compared with 19 percent of the insured, the survey found.
Angela Mejias, certified nurse practitioner with the Southside and Dodson Avenue Community Health Centers, affiliates of the Erlanger health system, said immigration status also affects whether a person goes to the doctor.
“For the most part, if they are illegal immigrants, because of fear of immigration (authorities) they tend not to seek medical health,” she said. “They use home remedies (first).”
Although the number of Hispanic patients is increasing locally, the access to care for Hispanics continues to be limited, said Karen Guinn, primary care program manager with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
“What we know is that access to care for Hispanics is often minimal because all of our Hispanic clients are uninsured, so it can be difficult to pay for care,” she said.
Ms. Mejias said there’s a need for health care providers to reach out to the Hispanic community.
“Some of the Hispanic patients I’ve seen haven’t seen a medical provider for years, a lot of them since they left their country,” she said.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...