by Maria Thomson, Domestic Violence Counselor
The Latino community has an important presence in the state of New Jersey – nearly 1 in 5 New Jerseyans identify as Hispanic or Latino, making Latinos the largest minority in the state as well as the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group. They are woven into our economy, contribute to our cultural richness and diversity, and are an integral part of our families, schools, and neighborhoods.
However, despite the growing presence and significance of Latinos in communities throughout New Jersey as well as nationally, they continue to face significant barriers to quality health and healthcare.
Health Concerns in the Latino Community
Some of the most rampant health concerns in the Latino community are heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Latinos are twice as likely to suffer from diabetes as non-Hispanic whites, and nearly 25% more likely to struggle with high blood pressure and obesity. One factor in health concerns among Latinos is limited access to high quality jobs and education – about 1 in 3 Latinos haven’t completed high school, and 1 in 4 live below the poverty line. These conditions often overlap with circumstances known to produce poorer health outcomes, such as geographic “food deserts” where access to healthy, fresh, and affordable produce is limited. Moreover, when Latinos seek out healthcare, they are less likely to have their language and culture represented by the medical professionals serving them: although Latinos make up 20% of the general population, only 7% of registered nurses, 5% of physicians, and 1% of psychologists identify as Hispanic.
Special Barriers for Immigrants
Latino immigrants in the United States face even greater obstacles to healthcare as they must overcome language barriers, unfamiliarity with healthcare systems, and ineligibility for health insurance and other financial assistance. Moreover, increasing concerns of deportation among undocumented immigrants have resulted in a drop in medical appointments and showing up for follow-up care, as well as significant drops in reports of domestic and sexual violence. This has caused concern among community health center and medical professionals that chronic conditions will worsen and injuries and infectious diseases will go untreated.
Under the Affordable Care Act, 4.2 million Latinos nation-wide gained health coverage, cutting the uninsured rate nearly in half, from 30.7% to 16.2%. Additionally, 70% of Hispanic-Americans reported seeing a healthcare professional in the past year. Nationally, there is a greater recognition of the importance of providing multi-lingual and culturally competent services throughout the medical profession, although the demographic of medical professionals has been slower to change.
Many challenges remain in providing high-quality healthcare to the Latino population in New Jersey and nationally, but there is increasing recognition that when Latinos have access to healthcare for themselves and their families, everyone benefits. We must work together to improve our healthcare system to make it high-quality, comprehensive, affordable, and accessible for everyone.
Maria has worked as a Domestic Violence Counselor/Advocate at the Hispanic Family Center since the fall of 2015. In this capacity, she offers crisis intervention, safety planning, counseling and case management, and court accompaniment to survivors of domestic violence. She also leads HFC’s arts- based support group for survivors of domestic violence, “Heart to HeART.”