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Latinos Have Health Care Communication Woes

An AP poll finds that most run into a language or cultural barrier

Doctor comforting senior patient
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Nearly 6 in 10 Hispanic adults have had a difficult time communicating with a health care provider because of a language or cultural barrier, and when they do they often turn to outside sources for help, according to a new study conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The survey finds that half of those who have faced those barriers turned to a family member or to another health care provider for assistance. In addition, more than 1 in 4 looked to a translator, public resources in their community or online sources for help when they faced those issues.

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Antonio Torres, 53, of Orlando, Fla., who is bilingual and legally blind, told AP he regularly struggles to understand the medical terms used by doctors and nurses.

“When I tell them I don’t understand them, they’ll bring someone over to speak to me in Spanish and I don’t understand them, either,” said Torres, who is Puerto Rican and was raised in New York. “We didn’t grow up speaking that formal Spanish, so I have no idea what they are saying.”

At times, Torres said he even gets medicine with his name misspelled on the bottle. “And I don’t know if I’m taking my medicine or someone else’s,” he said.

Along with communication challenges, many Hispanics are concerned about language or cultural accommodations for people in their community who seek long-term care services.

Fewer than half say it would be easy for older Latinos in their area to find a nursing home or assisted living facility with staff that speaks their language, or to find a home health aide who does.

Even fewer — less than 3 in 10 — say the same about finding long-term care providers who can prepare the kind of food they are used to. Some have concerns about finding nursing homes and assisted-living facilities that will respect their religious or spiritual beliefs, though fewer have the same concern about home health aides.

Torres said he’s not confident he’ll find a culturally sensitive nursing home when he gets older. “I’d rather just live alone and poison myself by accident rather than stay in one of those homes right now,” he said.

Like other older Americans, many Hispanics age 40 and older expect to rely on government programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to pay for long-term care services, even though Medicare does not cover most nursing care or home health aides. But only about 2 in 10 think any of these programs will still be providing at least the same level of benefits five years from now. Just 15 percent of older Hispanics are very confident they will be able to pay for their own future long-term care needs.

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