New health literacy program begins at Centro Latino

Sunday, February 15, 2009 | 10:55 p.m. CST; updated 8:25 p.m. CST, Monday, February 16, 2009

COLUMBIA — Health literacy means knowing where to find medical help and how to get it: problems for many in the growing Spanish-speaking population in mid-Missouri.

Now, thanks to a two-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health and a collaboration with the MU campus-based Cambio Center, Centro Latino will be providing a new health literacy program, "Promotores de Salud" (Promoters of Health) for Hispanics in mid-Missouri.  

If you go

What: A meet-and-greet with health promoters, Sandra Zapata and Karina Campos.

When: 5:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Centro Latino, 206 Austin Ave., Suite G.

Refreshments and child care will be provided.

The aims of Promotores are to address health issues important to the Hispanic population through prevention education and community outreach and to serve as a bridge between the public and health care resources. 

"We see the promotores as being, kind of serving as guides in this (health care) process," said Stephen Jeanetta, part of the executive committee at the Cambio Center.  Jeanetta added that he hopes the program will "help develop the capacity of the community to understand and access health care."

Eduardo Crespi, director of Centro Latino, hopes that Promotores will lead visitors to take advantage of the variety of health resources that exist in the community, such as the Family Health Center.

The program is intended to serve a "growing, low-income, rural and low health literate population," said Thomas Adams, lead program officer on the Health Literacy Missouri initiative for the Missouri Foundation for Health.  The foundation considered Promotores an opportunity to branch out to other groups in the state, namely Hispanics in non-urban areas. 

"We already have several programs with Latino components, but Promotores is all about that," he said.

The foundation became especially interested in the program for its potential to meet community needs by tailoring services and materials to specific local needs.

Sandra Zapata, one of the new promotoras, said one of the greatest issues confronting the Hispanic population in mid-Missouri is the unawareness of what the community has to offer.

"There are quite a few health care needs," Jeannetta said. "They don't understand as newcomers how the health care system works."

Two part-time staff, a health coordinator, and several volunteers have been recruited for the program and will be available during the week to assist Centro Latino visitors.

Community outreach will also be a large part of their work. There is a monthly event planned at Centro Latino to address specific health issues such as diabetes, HIV and obesity. 

Public health and social service have always been a large part of Centro Latino's service to the community. Over the past decade, it has helped visitors with many procedures that can make health care complicated for those who struggle with English or are new to the area, like the filling out of medical forms, the translation of documents, the procuring of care for those without insurance or documentation.

"I just want the people to feel comfortable and supported and not alone.  Many times when one arrives here they feel very alone," said Zapata, who has already begun her work with Promotores.

With the new program, Crespi expects its public health and social service efforts to be even more organized than before. He also hopes that the program will encourage more people to take advantage of the number of resources provided by Centro Latino (ESL classes, Spanish courses and an after-school youth program).

The program evaluation will be led by the Cambio Center, Centro Latino's partner in the project that wrote the grant and collaborated in the planning of the program. 

Evaluation will attempt to address several points: whether the community members feel they can better access resources, what quality of relationships are established between the promotoras and local health care entities, the success of educational initiatives, and whether broader integration of the community has been improved.

"We are very much looking forward to seeing the results that they (promotores) have," Adams said.  He hopes it will be a "shining example of health literacy development" and may provide "great lessons learned in how we move forward in health literacy programming."

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