EDITORIAL: A prescription for health care

York Dispatch
  • Language barriers were one of the health care problems brought up at a forum.
  • The cost of care and changes in health insurance were also discussed.

Understanding a doctor can be difficult at the best of times. In a health emergency, when the patient is scared or in pain, it can be even more difficult for a physician to explain what is happening and what needs to be done.

Now add in trying to translate what the doctor is saying to a relative who doesn't speak English.

That's a common situation for some of the Yorkers who attended a health care forum at Crispus Attucks on Tuesday evening.

The forum was meant as a spiritual successor to the charettes of the 1970s and '80s, with people encouraged to come and talk about problems they have when trying to get health care.

Health & wellness

The language barrier makes health care more difficult for both the patients and the doctors, Dr. Deborah Bernal of WellSpan Health said. While WellSpan has translators available, they need to be scheduled ahead of time to come to an appointment, she said.

Jose Santiago, who runs the Centro Hispano in York City, said it is especially hard for non-English speakers to find mental health care in York. Counselors need to be both fluent in Spanish and have knowledge of Latino culture to get patients to open up, he pointed out.

Those barriers could mean Hispanics are more likely to be in poor health and less likely to have insurance, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Yorkers voice health care concerns at forum

In 2014, 12.2 percent of Hispanics were in fair or poor health, compared to 9 percent of the total U.S. population, according to the CDC. The same year, 26.5 percent of Hispanics under 65 lacked health insurance, while 13.4 percent of the general population was uninsured, the CDC said.

The federal government has been working to break down the language barriers since 1990, when the Office of Minority Health was mandated to increase access to health care for those who don't speak English. But 26 years later, the problem remains.

In York County, 6.8 percent of the population, or about 30,000 people, live in homes where a language other than English is spoken, according to the U.S. Census. Those people often turn to their relatives for help in health care.

Dolores Minaya, who's Dominican born, said she always has to come to advocate for any of her family members who are seeking care.

"Where anybody has an appointment, Dolores has to be there," she said.

Other problems came up at the forum as well, including problems with getting and keeping insurance as well as the cost of care. Six years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, costs remain a barrier for some people seeking health care.

People spoke of insurance companies suddenly changing the prescriptions they will pay for and of costly, life-saving health care that couldn't take place without insurance.

"For a person who doesn't have health insurance, I guess you would just have to die," said Salome Johnson, a retired hospital administrator.

Forum organizer Carla Christopher said people need to know more about the options available for them and the resources they can tap into.

It's up to both health care organizations and communities to ensure that people are able to get the health care they need and can understand and be understood by their health care providers. These discussions need to continue.