Members of the Madison Latino community and the health issues they face “tend to be invisible for many reasons,” according to Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron, co-chair of the Latino Health Council and associate professor in the UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.
One reason for that: there’s a significant undocumented population that doesn’t qualify for many services, she said. That’s why Tellez-Giron is grateful for the recent release of a report from the University of Wisconsin’s Cancer Health Disparities Initiative.
Tellez-Giron was a consultant and interviewee for the report, which examines the health strengths and needs of the approximately 103,000 Latino residents in south central Wisconsin. The report is titled “Nuestra Comunidad, Nuestro Futuro."
She’s hoping the report brings greater awareness and funding for health programs already doing the work for Latino populations.
“Hopefully somebody will grab this report and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that, let's see if we can work together and get more funding … they already have assets in the community, let’s see how we can really help them,’” she said.
The report focused on 20 counties in south central Wisconsin served by the UW Carbone Cancer Center. It pulled from publicly available data on population, employment, income and other topics. Researchers also interviewed 14 representatives from Latino-serving organizations.
Tellez-Giron appreciated that the report examines both the strengths and needs of the Latino community, which makes up a significant demographic force. Latinos account for about 5% of the population of south central Wisconsin and have grown by 220% over the last 20 years, as compared to a 10% growth in the white population.
The report identifies several major barriers to Latinos receiving needed healthcare.
The studied area needs more public transportation or ride-share funding so Latinos can get to medical appointments. The report noted that even if public transportation is available, Latinos may be “hesitant” to use it if they lack funds or doubt their English skills.
It’s also difficult to attend community events or make medical appointments if there’s no child care available, the report said.
“Latinx parents often show up to appointments when children can come along, or when and where childcare is provided,” the report said.
And once they get to the doctor, there may not be someone behind the desk or in the office who can understand them. The report noted that this isn’t as much of a problem in Dane County; 69 % of certified healthcare interpreters in the state work in Dane County.
Then there’s the matter of payment. Latinos are more likely to be uninsured than other groups, the report said. It also cited low wages, employment without health insurance and lack of citizenship. It argued for “affordable payment plans” for those without insurance or access to Medicaid or Medicare.
On that economic note, the report argued there needs to be more opportunities for Latinos to work in well-paying, full-time jobs. U.S. Census data from 2011 to 2015 shows 24 % of local Latinos live in poverty, as compared to 10 % of whites, and over 50 % of Latinos in south central Wisconsin worked in service, production, transportation or materials moving jobs, the report said.
“If you talk about the employment rate, oh wow, in the Latino community employment is really low, they're doing very well,’” she said. “We’re not.”
Working more than one job and many hours can “interfere with their ability to live a healthy lifestyle, attend health care appointments and participate in community events,” the report said.
Top health concerns for Latinos include diabetes and cervical cancer, and screening for both. The rate of new cases of cervical cancer in south central Wisconsin is almost 20% higher for Latinas than whites, and adult Latinos under 65 in Wisconsin are estimated to be twice as likely to have diabetes.
Local Latinos have often commented on the lack of access to health care. Latinos may not have health insurance or assume they can’t afford services, or may fear they will be asked for a Social Security number they don’t have.
But the report also highlighted strengths of local Latino communities can contribute toward positive health outcomes. There are many spaces, including churches and Latino community centers, that convey health information and host cultural events and wellness workshops. Latinos make up a community and child-focused population, the report said, and nonprofits, Latino news outlets and schools step up with programming and services.
One example: once a year, the Latino Health Council hosts a day of health workshops and screenings to offer care in a culturally relevant way.
“This is often the one time of the year members of the community get in-person, focused information that is targeted to the Latinx community,” Ald. Shiva Bidar, co-chair of the Latino Health Council, previously told the Cap Times. “Education and understanding the issues is always really empowering.”
Established in 1996, the Latino Health Council has used education, advocacy, counseling and networking to support well-being in the Latino community. But over their 20 years of existence, they have to be able to hire even one paid staff to coordinate all the events and programs. The community is trying to provide for itself, but it needs help, Tellez-Giron said.
“We are here, we are not going anywhere, we have needs that are very particular to our community because many of the problems with language, documentation (and) access to care,” she said.