Cultural Barriers = Healthcare Barriers
I think most would not deny that the healthcare system in America is complicated… to say the least. Now imagine yourself moving to America where English is your second language, if you even know it at all, and you have to navigate your way through insurance, availability, costs, etc. What I have noticed in my work here in the cities is that most of that doesn’t happen at all for a lot of the families I have worked with. There are many aspects to that problem- their cultural understanding-or lack thereof- of the importance of healthcare and prevention, lack of resources to help them navigate the healthcare maze, language barriers, misunderstandings, etc.
After various eye-opening experiences working and volunteering in Minneapolis soon after moving to the city, I decided to pursue public health and got involved in many organizations. My dual degree in Spanish and science had me seeking opportunities to work with the Latino population. The realities of my suburban childhood- braces for everyone, yearly dentist and doctor checkups, college as an expectation- soon began to seem like an extremely idealistic reality, particularly when working with immigrants and people in the minority cultures in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
First, I volunteered in a free clinic in Philips Neighborhood where about 80% of the patients are Latinos or minorities. The patients don’t have any other options due on lack of money, no insurance or no transportation for a clinic to go to. This clinic was a fantastic resource, however I- a first semester, unqualified Spanish speaker- was their translator in this personal and important setting. That was my first time seeing the inequities that some populations face in receiving healthcare.
The next organization I began to work with was Southside Community Health Services in their “Q”mmunity Mobile Unit. We went to neighborhoods and communities around the cities to provide free health screenings and attempt to connect them with more permanent services or information on how to apply for insurance. With this organization, my view of health services and barriers began to widen as we worked across the cities and were able to see the realities that played out across various communities and cultures.
I mean, the organizations listed and many others not mentioned are awesome services attempting to close the opportunity gap and inequities that are faced specifically with minority populations and their access to healthcare, however my mindset at each organization was never “this is enough”. Much of the time all I could think about was the quantity of people we were not able to serve each day due to the limited hours in the day, the heartbreaking stories I would hear about families suffering from health problems that are completely preventable, and the people that were so overwhelmingly grateful to have somebody (even unqualified) like myself help them translate or provide some sort of information in their native language.
The problem is so large. The opportunity gap that exists is real. I am working in education in Minneapolis currently and yet again I see the same families that were suffering to find access to healthcare, now in a new light suffering to put their kids through school and living lives where attending college would only be a dream.
There are quite a few organizations dedicated to the betterment of this issue in our city. However, there aren’t enough funds to keep most of these organizations- mostly non-profits- up and running. The issues are largely ignored in state-wide statistics and political focus because they mesh all demographics together and then Minnesota looks like one of the healthiest states, statistically speaking. When we break up the population into smaller groups of people however, we are home to some of the unhealthiest groups of people on a national level. I believe that as students and educated individuals it is our responsibility to become aware of this issue. We may not all be interested in healthcare, which is fine, but being aware of this could really make a difference because we have a great power to influence others based on the opportunities we have been given in education.
I think some people might have reservations about getting involved due to their own cultural barriers- but those are a big part of what created this gap in the first place. You don’t need to know another language or be a part of the same culture- you just need to be you and if you genuinely care about this issue it will be evident in the community’s eyes. I have struggled quite a bit myself in owning my “identity” when I am in particular communities. I dream that there would be five more mobile units working to meet the demands of the city and that we would one day be able to refer them to a wide variety of clinics that will accept them as patients rather than a select few that they qualify for.
Cultural barriers can seem like a closed door when it comes to opportunities and access to healthcare for many people in the cities. Our society supposedly believes in fighting for equality and opportunity for everyone, so we need to make sure that these communities surrounding us feel that open door we speak of. I think we have the ability to make healthcare access at least readily available for everyone- from there it is up to the individual themselves to actually take it.