Latino Health Fair seeks to reach out

April 26, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Saturday’s free Latino Health Fair at the National Guard Armory is a first for Martinsville and Henry County. 

The fair, which will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the armory at 315 W. Commonwealth Blvd., was made possible through a $10,000 Pick Up the Pace! grant given to Iglesia Casa de Alabanza by the Harvest Foundation.

The fair was the idea of the Latino Health Access Taskforce, an organization consisting of several members of the local Latino community, including chairwoman Sharon Ortiz-Garcia, an epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health; Lourdes Akers with Berry-Elliot Realtors; and Pastor Jaime Herrera of Iglesia Casa de Alabanza. 

Along with the Harvest Foundation, other partners with the organization include Piedmont Community Services (PCS), Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness (CHW) and Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC).

Akers said the health fair is designed to help Latino residents learn about their health care options. However, everyone is welcome at the event. 

“It is not just for the Hispanics; we are inviting everybody,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is educate Hispanics, trying to get them together ... we are trying to make them feel comfortable. There will be interpreters in the booths (so) they can feel free to ask anything.”

General practitioners, dentists and other local health organizations will have booths at the fair and offer information. 

Jim Tobin of Piedmont Community Services said the original idea was to have about 25 booths at the fair, though he wasn’t certain initially if they would be able to meet that number. Once word spread, however, he said he found himself turning vendors away.

“We’ve seriously run out of room at the armory,” he said. “I think it’s right at 40 (booths) now.” 

Tobin said that according to census data, Latinos make up about 7 percent of the population of Henry County and Martinsville. However, he said, many people believe the number is underreported, and it is much closer to 10 percent.

The health fair was needed because “health care is a problem for everybody in North America as far as I can tell,” he said. “It is particularly difficult for people (if) English is not their primary language.” 

The fair will be have activities for children and also will offer traditional, healthy Latino food provided by two local restaurants.

The fair is not the first project that the Latino Health Access Taskforce has undertaken, nor is it planned be the last. 

“We see this as the beginning of chapter two,” Tobin said.

There have been two previous task force projects since the group’s inception two years ago. The first project was to translate the PART (Piedmont Area Regional Transit) bus schedule into Spanish. 

“PART is a perfect example,” Herrera said. “We don’t use it because we don’t know it. ... A lot of the Hispanics, they don’t have a driver’s license, they don’t have a car sometimes. They need to do basic things — go to the hospital, go to the physician. Now they can use this service.”

Since the bus schedule was translated and disseminated to much of the Latino community — an undertaking that took about six months — Latino ridership on the PART buses has increased significantly, Tobin said. 

Both Akers and Herrera have taught classes at PHCC. Herrera has taught ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, while Akers taught a class for health care office staff, the second project that the task force undertook.

Akers said that the office staff members were given bilingual versions of the forms handed to patients when they arrive at a doctor’s office or hospital. Akers taught the employees how to properly pronounce the Spanish words, and showed them how they could use the forms to assist a Spanish speaker and make them feel comfortable. 

According to Akers, an inability to speak English can lead to uncomfortable situations at a doctor’s office. For example, she said, a non-English speaker might need to visit a urologist. If they cannot communicate with their doctor directly, their only option might be to bring a bilingual family member along to interpret, which would be embarrassing for both parties.

The task force’s projects offer “an incentive for everybody,” Akers said. “It’s not just the Hispanics learning English, it’s not the Americans learning Spanish. It’s communication for everybody.” 

Since the Latino Health Fair is an untested idea in the area, nobody is exactly certain how it will turn out.

“We’re not exactly sure what’s going to come out of this,” Tobin said, “but something good will.” 

“We’re making a mark,” Herrera added. “This is a dream come to be true.”


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