“Latino Health Care Community Centers are the Answer”

By Ed Martinez – November 22, 2007


Advocates for Latino health from California, Arizona and Texas gathered at San Ysidro Health Center recently for the Latino Health Leadership Summit to voice their passion, concern and vision for the burgeoning Latino community in this state and our community. The goal of the summit was to craft a common vision of comprehensive health care reform to help eliminate long-standing health disparities and provide a roadmap for accessible, affordable and culturally proficient community-based services.


The voices and recommendations of these health advocates were not theirs alone. Their chorus echoed the challenges, frustrations and, ultimately, the hopes of Latinos–the most rapidly expanding population in the country, and one of the most underserved by the health community.


These are voices, concerns and passions that must be heard. Latinos represent the fasted-growing population group in the United States. With a current population of 47.5 million, this population has grown beyond a quiet minority to represent 14 percent of the total U.S. population. It is estimated that this percentage will expand to 28.6 percent of the total U.S. population by year 2070.


California’s Latino population alone now stands at 11 million, about one-third of the state’s total population. These numbers represent an economical and political force that will only continue to grow. In 2003, the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture reported that:

In 2001, the majority of babies born in California were Latino.

In 2006, the majority of children entering kindergartens were Latino.

In 2014, the majority of students entering high school were Latino.

In 2019, the majority of young adults eligible to vote will be Latino.


To date, the current and potential economical and political impact of the Latino population has not been recognized as powerful enough to enact health care change at the local, state or federal levels. At San Ysidro Health Center’s Latino Health Leadership Summit, health advocates and professionals presented the shocking health disparities still facing Latinos despite remarkable advancements in medical science. Consider the following:

More than one-half of all babies born uninsured are Latino.

Nearly one of every four Latino 2-year-olds is not fully immunized.


Latino children are almost as twice as likely as white children to have an unmet dental need and are over 50-percent more likely to have gone more than two years without seeing a dentist.


Hispanic men and women have higher incidence and mortality rates for stomach/liver cancer.

The health and community professionals who participated in the Latino Health Leadership Summit emphasized the need for Latino communities to move beyond the analytic stage of merely studying access to barriers and health disparities. The time is now, they concurred, to craft workable plans to make health services accessible, affordable and acceptable to Latinos.


Summit work groups generally agreed that several core strategies used by community health centers were uniquely suited to address barriers and health disparities experienced by the Latino community. These strategies include:

Targeting high-risk, traditionally underserved populations/communities. As part of their mission to reduce/eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities, health centers are located in high-need areas. These areas are typically identified by the federal government as being “medically underserved” and having a shortage of health professional resources.


Reducing the costs of health care. The public health literature documents the fact that because community clinics place emphasis on early detection and early intervention, they reduce the need for expensive services such as hospital admission, emergency room services and specialty care. A 2001 study published in Medical Care found that Medicaid patients were 11 percent less likely to be hospitalized and 19 percent less likely to use the emergency room for preventive conditions compared with Medicaid patients seen by other providers.


Encouraging patients to select health centers as their health care home. Studies have shown that the uninsured often go without routine care due to the high cost of accessing care as self-paying patients. Health centers encourage patients to select a primary care provider as their regular source for health care. From the patient’s perspective, the primary care provider serves as their health care advocate and care coordinator, and, the clinic is viewed as their health care home.


Emphasizing health promotion and disease prevention services. This disease management approach has proven to be very effective in the areas of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, HIV and depression.


Delivering cross-cultural health services with culturally competent personnel. Health centers have developed bilingual and bicultural services that have the capacity to effectively communicate with their patients and deliver services in a manner that respects the cultural beliefs and values of the community. With the growing Latino population in California, cultural competency will continue to be a primary benchmark of quality for all care systems.


By incorporating the above service-delivery strategies into clinic programs, community health centers have been consistently successful in mitigating long-standing access barriers experienced by our uninsured and underserved patient population. While the debate continues, community centers such as SYHC, with support from Latino health advocates from around the nation, will continue to focus on eliminating access barriers and health disparities through our dedication to culturally competent, high quality preventive and primary care health services. 


  Ed Martinez is a resident of El Cajon and  former CEO/President of San Ysidro  Health Center


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