MINORITY HEALTH: Interpreters Dissolve Barriers to Care
Concern that language barriers are preventing Tennessee's Hispanic residents from accessing mental health services has prompted the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee to hire a researcher "to conduct a study of the need for bilingual programs in the mental health industry," the Tennessean reports. With an estimated 40,000 Hispanics living in Middle Tennessee, Association Director Fran Peebles concluded, "They (Hispanics) are probably suffering from mental illnesses and don't know where to go" -- a predicament exacerbated by findings that show "Hispanic women are more likely to suffer from clinical depression than women of other ethnicities." In addition to Peebles' plan to establish a Spanish phone line, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation "is creating a task force to study ways to better serve minorities." Once his research is complete, appointee David Wilhite hopes to "identify agencies willing to assist Hispanics and unite them for one big meeting" (Sandoval, 7/12).
Further west, Kansas' Wichita-Sedgwick County Bilingual/Bicultural Program, part of the department of health, has "dramatically increased the number of Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking clients the department serves," the Wichita Eagle reports. The program began in October 1995, after the health department obtained a $280,000 grant from the federal Office of Minority Health. Interpreters hired by the program's 10-member Multicultural Advisory Board have developed public health commercials and billboards in Spanish and Vietnamese and have seen the department's Spanish-speaking client base increase almost four-fold from 470 during the first half of 1997 to 1,696 during the fist half of 1999. Similarly, the department served 152 Vietnamese residents during the first six months of 1997 and 735 during the same period this year. Dr. Anita Raghavan, a member of the board, said, "We knew there was a need. I don't think we would have predicted it was this great, though." The interpreters have translated more than 50 health brochures and officials have provided health department employees with cultural sensitivity training. Currently, the demand for Spanish translation is greatest in maternal and infant care, and need is expected to only increase, as 10% of Sedgwick County residents will be Hispanic by 2025, and 4% will be Asian. As its translation services grant expired in June, the health department is teaming up with 30 local health care and social service agencies, called the Multicultural Mobilization Coalition, to obtain grants for minority services, including a federal grant to reduce cardiovascular disease among Hispanic and Vietnamese residents (Rombeck, 7/13).