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Translating Health
As the needy Hispanic population of East Baltimore expands, so do Hopkins’ efforts to serve it.

Barbara Cook’s Spanish-speaking skills come in handy as she converses with Hispanic patients.

When pediatrician Pasquale Bernardi recently examined his first young patient at the Hispanic Apostolate in Fells Point, he stepped on unfamiliar turf: A well-child visit conducted with an interpreter by his side.

“It’s a little challenging because you don’t know exactly what is being said or how you’re being translated—and a well visit is all about communication,” he says. “There’s a lot of nuance. You talk about nutrition and school and behavior and parenting issues and discipline and the home environment. You find out about issues and concerns, then try to address them.”

The stakes can be high, especially for parents new to America. And Bernardi, who directs pediatrics for Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, is among a growing roster of JHM clinicians determined to help immigrant families live healthier lives.

Once a month, a pediatrician from JHCP spends a half day at the Apostolate’s new on-site health services floor at 430 S. Broadway. Although the pediatricians donate their services, the Apostolate requires patients to make appointments in advance and to pay $10 per visit.

The Hopkins program is part of a multi-hospital effort at the Apostolate to bring affordable primary care to uninsured immigrants. It’s also the newest service that Johns Hopkins Medicine offers the Spanish-speaking community.

Hopkins psychiatrist Larry Wissow, who speaks Spanish, has treated children and their families at the Apostolate for nearly ten years.

“There used to be a lot more folks from Central America fleeing political violence and lawlessness,” he says. “Now we see more long-term residents struggling with issues of language, acculturation and separation from their families.”

Last year, the city’s Hispanic population grew to roughly 20,000, with another 42,000 living in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, according to the Centro de la Comunidad, the Hispanic social services organization in East Baltimore.

And, up to 54 percent of the state’s low-income Hispanics do not have medical coverage, according to the most recent Maryland Health Care Commission report.

Increasingly, uninsured Hispanics are seeking care at the East Baltimore Medical Center, a JHCP-run primary care facility at 1000 E. Eager St. At the Wednesday night “Spanish clinic,” patients receive medical help in Spanish and pay as little as $5 per visit.

Barbara Cook, president of JHCP, has volunteered at the clinic since it opened almost a year ago. The bilingual family physician has treated patients for problems ranging from high blood pressure to intestinal parasites. Diabetes is common.

“The patients’ primary concern is staying healthy so that they can work,” she says.

EBMC plans to expand the weekly walk-in service into a full-time primary care program by hiring a Spanish-speaking medical team. At the moment, however, physicians often use medical interpreters who work for Johns Hopkins Medicine International.

Primarily responsible for coordinating the care of international patients receiving medical treatment at Hopkins, International also offers interpreting for local patients. Each month, community interpreters serve as many as 1,200 requests—60 percent of them for Spanish speakers, says Raffaella Molteni, director of International’s patient services.

Most calls come from the main hospital and from Howard County General Hospital, she says. Johns Hopkins Bayview maintains its own staff of interpreters.

International also helps arrange for bilingual speakers, like Victor Urrutia, assistant professor of neurology, to speak to Latino seniors and other groups on such topics as hypertension and stroke prevention.

“Reaching out to the community” says Molteni, “is part of our mission.”




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