When Holy Cross Medical Center began testing members of the Santa Rosa Roman Catholic parish for signs of diabetes three years ago, it came across a startling statistic--eight out of 10 parishioners tested said they had no regular physician.
Indeed, half of the county's 469,000 Latinos with diabetes have no idea they suffer the disease, according to studies by health researchers and health advocacy groups, and nationwide, 39% of Latinos have no health insurance. According to the hospital, Latinos' access to public health service is lower than any other minority group, and Latinos remain relatively unaware of the warning signs and tests available for cancer.
The Mission Hills hospital is not sure why this is the case. But it has launched a program aimed at improving the situation and finding some answers.
As part of its ongoing Parish Nurse Partnership Program, which pairs nurses with congregations, Holy Cross has hired a Latina nurse to work in the predominantly Latino Santa Rosa and Mary Immaculate congregations in San Fernando, said Sister Colleen Settles, the hospital's director of chaplaincy services and co-founder of the partnership.
The nurse is charged with training 10 parishioners in each of the two congregations as "health promoters," who will be charged with educating parishioners about health. The hospital is trying to raise money to provide them with a living stipend to help them through their studies.
"They would be outreach workers in the community, to help bring the community into the health care network," said Settles. "We've been aware of the need almost immediately from the start."
A study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that Latinos in the United States are more susceptible to diabetes, liver disease, pneumonia and influenza. Cancer--a disease to which Latinos were found to be less susceptible--generally goes undetected longer among Latinos than in the rest of the population, supporting the hospital's hunch that the population may be hesitant to seek medical attention or be unaware of the help available.
"The knowledge just isn't out there," said Settles.