Rural Areas Confronting Challenge of Providing Health Services to Influx of Hispanic Immigrants
As the number of Hispanics in rural areas increases, care providers are re-examining how they deliver health services and trying to find ways to overcome cultural and language barriers, the AP/High Plains Journal reports. The Hispanic population in rural areas increased from 1.4 million in 1980 to 2.7 million in 2000, when the latest census was conducted. Hispanics made up 3% of rural residents in 1980 and 5.5% by 2000, the AP/Journal reports.
According to the AP/Journal, increased border security has helped increase the Hispanic population, as many undocumented immigrants cannot travel back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico. William Kandel, a sociologist with USDA, said, "They discover that crossing back and forth no longer is easy and no longer is cheap."
Towns along the U.S.-Mexico border are experiencing some of the "most acute problems" related to the influx of immigrants, the AP/Journal reports. Amy Elizondo, vice president of program services for the National Rural Health Association, said, "You see a lot of overflow in emergency rooms" in border communities, adding, "You're looking at Third World country type problems."
Candace Kugel, a nurse practitioner affiliated with the Migrant Clinicians Network, said that migrant workers are a special case because they have a nomadic lifestyle. She added, "People who move because of their work are constantly being uprooted, and so if they are involved in care for a chronic illness or a pregnancy, for example, they are not necessarily going to have a good continuity of care."
The challenge for rural areas that have basic health services is to make "Hispanics aware of what is available and how to get to hospitals and doctors' offices," the AP/Journal reports. Mark Holmes, vice president of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, said that bringing services directly to Hispanics can overcome access-to-care obstacles. He said, "It really cuts down on transportation time and transportation may be a considerable barrier. There's also a big issue of trust. When you have repeat visits and lay the groundwork for explaining who the health care providers are and what they do, that helps."
Carol Vidal -- a Spanish psychiatrist recently hired by Hanover, Pa., to study the needs of the local Hispanic community -- found obstacles to health services for Hispanics included language barriers, long work hours, perceived discrimination and fears about deportation. She said, "I was surprised by the amount of hours they were working, how they were trying to deal with family and work time" (AP/High Plains Journal, 12/17).