Bilingual Health Care Reaches Latinos
ADA volunteer runs Alivio Medical Center in Indianapolis
|For more information about Alivio Medical Center, visit www.aliviohealth.com. To learn more about the ADA's Latino Programs, visit diabetes.org/latinoprograms.|
Neurologist Alfredo López-Yunez, MD, has trained to tend to people's brains, but the patients at Alivio Medical Center in Indianapolis will tell you he cares about the whole person. López-Yunez, who is a codirector of the Wishard Stroke Unit at Indiana University and a volunteer board member of the American Diabetes Association's Indianapolis office, is also founder and director of Alivio, a comprehensive health care clinic serving the uninsured or underinsured and, in particular, the Latino community. Alivio's bilingual staff serves people who might otherwise not get health care.
When López-Yunez, 44, opened Alivio in a shopping center in 2001, an influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants had recently moved to the Indianapolis area. He says hospitals there weren't ready to serve the new population, in part because of a language barrier. People had difficulty getting referrals to specialists with whom they could communicate, and their cases often got lost in the shuffle. López-Yunez, himself an immigrant from Colombia, saw that he and other doctors in the area could cater to the special needs of the new immigrant community. He and a few other specialists rented the office space and Alivio Medical Center was born. Word of the Spanish-speaking doctors and nurses at the clinic, where fees are charged on a sliding scale based on patients' income, spread quickly. "The need was so great that we had to add services almost every two weeks," López-Yunez says. "It was almost exponential growth." A decade later, the clinic staff of 65 people has open files on 15,000 patients, with more than 400 patients coming in every week for services from dental cleanings to physical therapy, and cardiology to nutrition. In recent years, the clinic has seen a rise in type 2 diabetes diagnoses. López-Yunez estimates that Alivio's doctors diagnose about 20 new patients a month, mainly people 40 and older, but increasingly those in their 20s, too. "The numbers are startling to us," López-Yunez says. "It is a very urgent matter for us to intervene."
There's no endocrinologist on staff at Alivio, but the staff is trained to do lab work, perform foot exams, and provide diabetes education. Diabetes care is covered—and so is diabetes prevention.
López-Yunez tries to raise diabetes awareness beyond the walls of Alivio. He has a weekly Spanish-language radio show about health, "Pregúntele al Experto," or Ask the Expert. Sometimes, he invites ADA experts on air to speak to the Latino community about diabetes, says Jennifer Pferrer, executive director of the Association's Indianapolis office. "He has a real vision for what it is we at the ADA need to do," she says. "He's interested in us being anywhere and everywhere that he is."
The collaboration between the Association and Alivio is important, says Leticia Villalon, associate director of the ADA's Research Foundation, and is mutually beneficial. Alivio works within the Latino community, reaching Spanish-speaking people who may not have heard of the ADA, while the Association can provide more information and support in their own language to individuals and families managing diabetes. The rate of diabetes in Latino communities is nearly twice that of the non-Hispanic white population. A language barrier or a lack of money doesn't get in the way of health care at Alivio. "A friend told me to come to Alivio because it was very easy to come here with the language and the services, but especially because Alivio will work with [patients of] low income," says Roberto Garrido, 55, a Mexican immigrant with type 2 diabetes, who spoke through an interpreter. "I needed a place where I could communicate with the doctors. It's really important not only for me, but for everyone, to find multiple services in the same place."
López-Yunez hopes Alivio will continue to work with the Association in the future. "We want to make sure Latinos understand diabetes and have access to many, many resources, education . . . and what is relevant to Latinos," he says.