Blueprint seeks to improve health for Montgomery County Latinos
Health disparities persist in the Montgomery County Latino community, according to the third edition of the Blueprint for Latino Health in Montgomery County 2017-2026 which was released last month.
Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Olivia Carter-Pokras recently gave a presentation on some of the report's findings to county officials, telling them that lack of health insurance and not being able to afford care are still some of the major barriers to accessing health care for Montgomery County's Latino Community.
Dr. Carter-Pokras has been a member of the Latino Health Steering Committee of Montgomery County and a research partner for more than a decade. The report has been produced since 2000, when the Latino Health Initiative began to develop, implement and evaluate a plan of action that would be responsive to the health needs of Latinos living and working in Montgomery County.
In Montgomery County, 21 .7% of Latinos are still uninsured, according to a telephone-based survey cited in the report. Dr. Carter-Pokras said that based on an in-person household interview survey she helped plan, the number of uninsured Latinos could be even higher.
"That percentage is likely significantly underestimated," she said. "Even with the Affordable Care Act in place."
A 2005 door-to-door survey found that only 42% of Latino adults reported having health insurance — much lower than the 80.7% found through the State’s telephone-based survey completed the same year, Dr. Carter-Pokras said. At the time, the telephone survey didn't offer Spanish language questionnaires or interviewers and polled fewer than 200 Latinos statewide.
For Latinos in Montgomery County, 64.3 percent had a routine check-up in the last year, but 22.4 percent could not afford a doctor and 9.5 percent never had a routine check-up, the report said.
She said that as lawmakers discuss altering the Affordable Care Act, even more Latinos and other state residents could lose their insurance, and that could put a bigger burden on state and local governments.
“I think anyone who's concerned about access to healthcare is going to say ‘hey this isn’t good,’” she said.
Language barriers are also a common issue for Maryland Latinos, and the report recommended more bilingual and bicultural staff for health and social services, including emergency personnel.
County officials were receptive to the presentation, and shared some ideas that could be implemented in the coming years, like training and hiring bilingual staff in critical county positions, Dr. Carter-Pokras said.
Of the more than one million residents of Montgomery County, 47% are non-Hispanic white, 17% are African-American, 18% are Latino and 14% are Asian, according to a 2015 U.S. Census estimate.
“Not only do we have diversity in terms of our residents, we have diversity in terms of political opinions in the county,” Dr. Carter-Pokras said.
In the last several years, and especially after the election, the Latino community has become fearful of reporting crimes or seeking medical treatment because they fear persecution, she said.
"This has been a concern for a while, but it's only getting worse after the election," she said.
Some of the biggest health priorities for Maryland Latinos include the interrelatedness of health issues to other problems, like employment and stress, the Blueprint said.
She said in the coming years she hopes that the blueprint serves as a guide to bring the community closer together and help make healthcare more accessible for Latinos in Montgomery County.
"The blueprint is a road map of what still needs to be done to help improve the health of Latinos in Montgomery County as well as in the region," she said.