October 30, 2019
The College of Community Health Sciences hosted an expert panel discussion October 8 for its faculty, residents and medical students as part of The University of Alabama’s Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month, which was celebrated September 15 through October 15.
The panelists, who talked about serving the Latino community in Tuscaloosa and West Alabama and who also answered questions from the audience, included: Kara Bernal, a licensed independent clinical social worker, an ESL (English as a second language) School Social Worker with the Tuscaloosa City School System for nearly 20 years, and an interpreter-translator for UA’s Parent-Teacher Leadership Academy; Luz Irene Reyes, an interpreter-translator for Community Services Programs of West Alabama, which works to improve the quality of life for low-income and vulnerable populations in 12 Alabama counties; and Julia Sosa, a registered dietitian and prenatal coordinator at Whatley Health Services in Tuscaloosa and retired Alabama Department of Public Health Minority Health Director.
Bernal, Reyes and Sosa said it is their passion to serve the Latino community in Tuscaloosa and West Alabama.
Among the questions asked of the panelists was the greatest challenge the Latino community faces. All three agreed it is the language barrier. While they said interpretive services have improved, “We still have a long way to go,” Bernal said.
Sosa said the Tuscaloosa Latino Coalition currently provides translation and interpretive services and eventually hopes to have a large database of interpreters.
The speakers said another challenge is the need to provide health care to the Latino community in a culturally competent way. “In other parts of the world, they don’t have the medicine we have here. Many Latina women have never heard of or had a pap smear,” Sosa said. “Health care needs to be presented in a culturally competent way. Interpreters need to be bi-culturally trained, not just bi-lingually trained.”
Yet another challenge is mental health care. “We don’t have enough mental health providers for our population,” Sosa said. “And imagine explaining your feelings through an interpreter.”
The speakers said the political and humanitarian crises at the US-Mexican border has resulted in fewer members of the local Latino community seeking health care. “It has been dropping because they are scared,” Reyes said.
Sosa said she has seen a drop of Latino patients at Whatley Health Services and cautioned that the situation could impact public health.