Baltimore Health Department Struggles to Keep Pace with ‘Burgeoning’ Hispanic Population
Baltimore's Hispanic population comprises the city's "fastest-growing" ethnic group, but has "woefully inadequate" access to health care, according to a report released on Nov. 27 by the city's Health Department. Baltimore's Hispanic population, estimated at about 8,500 by census figures, has grown by 11% over the last decade. However, some community leaders, noting that large numbers of Hispanic residents are undocumented and uninsured and do not participate in the census for fear of deportation, estimate Baltimore's Hispanic population could be as high as 50,000. Regardless of the actual figure, the report notes that Baltimore's Health Department has not kept pace with the population boom, with only eight Spanish speakers among its 1,300 employees. The lack of translators also poses problems in many medical offices, causing patients to wait hours for care and prompting some "[f]rustrated" Hispanic patients to "stor[m]" out on doctors without receiving treatment or to bring their children "to translate sensitive medical information," city Health Commissioner Dr. Peter Beilenson said. To help alleviate the problem, the Health Department is working with local institutions to offer college credit to university students for translation services. The Health Department study also recommends hiring bilingual job applicants whenever possible -- a strategy that "won't cost the city any extra dollars." "Some agencies think if they have one person who speaks Spanish, they are bicultural," Angelo Solera, one of the study's authors and an educator with a bureau of the Baltimore Health Department, said. He added, "If we want this city to grow into a healthy city, we have to do a lot of work. We can't ignore a segment of our population" (Klein, Baltimore Sun, 11/27).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.