EWS

By Sarah Bruyn Jones
Staff Writer
April 17. 2006
TUSCALOOSA |

Lili Espinoza said she wants to help Hispanics living in Tuscaloosa get proper health care.

She was a nurse when she lived in Mexico, but she hasn’t been able to get a nursing license since she moved to Tuscaloosa 13 years ago. She said she has seen problems with prenatal care, blood pressure and diabetes among the Mexican community in Tuscaloosa that could be addressed with proper medical attention.

“I think it is good for me helping my community," she said.

Leaders at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, where the Spanish-language mass attracts about 300 people each week, also say it’s a good idea for her to help.

Dorothy McDade, the Hispanic liaison at Holy Spirit, said the church is trying to do more to help address health problems among Hispanic churchgoers.

“We’re trying to get to the Hispanic community," McDade said. “There are a lot of people interested in getting involved, but they don’t know where to start."

Espanoza, who is bilingual, has become an asset for the church. And McDade said there are others like her.

“These are people of great faith," McDade said. “They are very positive. They focus on the needs of the community. It is clear to them why God has brought them to Tuscaloosa."

Holy Spirit is paying for Espanoza to attend a three-day conference at the University of Alabama on health disparities in the Hispanic community. The idea is for her to learn about the problems seen by scholars, physicians and other experts and then help figure out ways to address those issues on a local level.

Hispanics are the least likely to have health insurance, according to government statistics.

According to the federal government, 35 percent of Hispanics living in the United States are uninsured. But access isn’t the only issue. The Hispanic population also has a disproportionately high prevalence of asthma, HIV/AIDS, obesity, suicide, teenage pregnancy and tuberculosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control Office of Minority Health.

Given the increasing Hispanic population in Alabama, experts are continuing to look for ways to close the gap in health disparities facing Hispanics. The growing need to address these disparities prompted the Institute for Rural Health Research at UA to devote its annual conference to the disparities among Hispanic-Alabamians.

“It’s an issue now, and it is an ever-increasing issue. As the population grows, as it is expected, these issues will also increase," said John Higginbotham, associate dean for research and health policy at UA.

How faith communities, like Holy Spirit, can help will be one focus of the conference. Other topics include diabetes, occupational injuries and outreach efforts.

In addition to lack of insurance, language barriers are another area where Higginbotham said local physicians are already struggling. The communication hurdles are compounded by a lack of physicians living in the poorer areas of Alabama. In the Black Belt, the number of physicians is still 300 shy of federal guidelines.

“This goes for anything in any situation: The better we communicate, the better care we can provide," Higginbotham said. “That has to do with anyone regardless of ethnicity."

Reach Sarah Bruyn Jones at sarah.jones@tuscaloosanews.com or (205) 722-0209.