A language barrier is keeping the South's rapidly growing Hispanic communities from getting much-needed medical care, and more interpreters are needed in the health care system, Hispanic organizations said Friday.
Limited English skills and the lack of Spanish-speaking health workers have prevented many Hispanic patients from seeking appropriate medical care, according to a survey released by the National Council of La Raza.
The reluctance of Hispanics to seek or even trust the health care system in the South is similar to their attitude in other parts of the country, experts say. But the difference in the South is that the Hispanic population has exploded so quickly there that health services have yet to catch up.
"We want to make sure these emerging Latino communities get support," said Janet Murguia, executive director of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization.
In Georgia, Hispanics were nearly 2 percent of the population in 1990 and grew to more than 5 percent by 2000. During the same period, Atlanta's Hispanic population grew by 30 percent, while Nashville's grew by 21 percent, the organization said.
The survey was based on interviews of Hispanic residents and health providers in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee -- the states with the largest recent growth of Hispanics.
It found that Hispanic communities have very limited sources of health information.
Spanish radio programs with "doctores" -- who promote unregulated health remedies -- can be a community's only source of health information, said Andrea Bazan Manson of the North Carolina-based El Pueblo, which serves Hispanic communities.
Health departments need to wage more campaigns to educate Hispanics about health issues, and medical schools should offer courses that enable doctors to better understand the Hispanic culture, the organization said.