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Dome - It's All About Familia

Dome October 2013 VOL 64
Issue No. 8

It's All About Familia

Date: October 1, 2013

Lisa DeCamp discusses healthy habits with Marlene Aza and her sons, Marlon, left, and Angelo, right.
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Lisa DeCamp discusses healthy habits with Marlene Aza and her sons, Marlon, left, and Angelo, right.

When Marlene Aza heard from a friend that the pediatrics clinic at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center had an outlet for Spanish-speaking mothers to meet, offer feedback on the clinic services and learn more about community resources, she immediately wanted in.

Aza called the clinic to inquire, and soon was invited to join the Latino Family Advisory Board, a group of nine to 12 mothers who meet six evenings a year. Because of feedback from members like Aza, the clinic replaced its carpet with easier-to-clean flooring, and obtained educational materials and children’s books for the waiting area. Volunteers now read to children waiting for appointments and help parents fill out paperwork. The clinic also started a monthly parenting class to address issues like behavior management in young children, and developed a dental health toolkit for families.

Aza, who moved to Baltimore nine years ago from Peru, says she loves that the group is so supportive, that it offers child care during meetings, and that clinicians listen to her suggestions. Through her participation, Aza learned about English and exercise classes in the community and also received important information about school for her 5- and 6-year-old sons.

Now, with the establishment of a Center of Excellence for Latino Health at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, clinicians hope to embrace many more families like Aza’s.              

Known in Spanish as Centro de Johns Hopkins para la Salud y Oportunidad de los Latinos, the center emphasizes a family-centered multidisciplinary approach to health that bridges medicine, pediatrics, gynecology and obstetrics, and psychiatry. It focuses on enhancing the health of Latinos in Baltimore and beyond by combining coordinated clinical care with advocacy, education and research.

The initiative was made possible by a five-year grant from the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation, and matching funds provided by leaders from Bayview, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Health System. Bayview was the logical place to house the new center, says its director Tina Cheng, because the campus had already established programs such as the family advisory board and an Hispanic community mental health clinic to serve the large Latino population in southeast Baltimore. Not only do Latinos make up 25 to 30 percent of the population in the area surrounding Bayview, but more than half of the hospital’s pediatric patients and 45 percent of obstetric patients are Spanish-speaking.

Chief among the center’s goals is learning about the Latino community’s health needs and developing programs to address them, says Cheng, who will work with Sarah Polk and Lisa DeCamp, assistant professors of pediatrics at Hopkins; and Kathleen Page and Adriana Andrade, both assistant professors of medicine and infectious disease specialists at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Latinos in the Bayview area face a number of health issues, including childhood obesity and diabetes, dental cavities and access to health care, says Cheng, a professor of pediatrics who studies health disparities in minority populations. There also are significant mental health needs for adolescents trying to fit in, and for adults feeling economic pressures and isolation, especially among those trying to raise money to send to family members left behind in other countries. But “they also have areas of positive health behavior and health outcomes which we can learn from, like strong families and good birth outcomes.”

The center represents a culmination of efforts started by Page and Andrade a few years ago, when they noticed an uptick in Latinos with HIV who faced significant language barriers. In 2010, they created the Hopkins Organization for Latino Awareness, or HOLA. The network of 15 active Latino faculty members and others aims to improve quality, outcomes and access to care for Latinos at Johns Hopkins through scholarship, education and policy leadership.

HOLA has directed a range of activities, including cultural competency courses for medical students, health seminars at the school of public health and an elective through which trainees in Hopkins’ urban health residency program treat Latino patients at Esperanza Center, a free clinic for immigrants, supervised by HOLA faculty. Ongoing community outreach by the center’s faculty includes a bimonthly health column published in a Latino periodical; a Spanish language program on El Zol radio station; the largest Latino HIV outreach program in Baltimore; and pro bono provision of care at Esperanza Center.

The new funding allows investigators to strengthen HOLA’s research base; develop interventions to reduce health disparities for Latinos; expand collaborations with other Hopkins and Baltimore city entities, like Head Start and Women, Infants and Children (WIC); establish a website for community residents; and hire a full-time administrator.

Page says students in Johns Hopkins’ schools of medicine, nursing and public health and at the Homewood campus have offered to help or conduct research, while several Department of Medicine residents have expressed interest in remaining at Johns Hopkins to continue their work through the center.

Aza notes that the center will provide essential health care and resources, reaching many who do not have health insurance. “I’m super, super happy [about the center],” she said through a translator. “It’s a very human thing to do.”

—Karen Blum