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Improving Healthcare for Latinos in the Face of DACA Threats

October 19, 2017

Improving Healthcare for Latinos in the Face of DACA Threats

In California, many Latinos don’t have a regular primary physician. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, race and ethnicity, as well as concerns about English skills, are among the top reasons why. One Sonoma County health center is trying to improve care by boosting its number of Latino caregivers. But that program is in jeopardy because of recent moves by the Trump administration.

About an hour north of San Francisco, Petaluma Health Center recently started a Medical Assistant training program, which recruits and trains bicultural students to join the health care profession. While Latinos make up 39 percent of California’s population, they make up just 7 percent of California’s nurses and 5 percent of its doctors.

Pedro Toledo, the Chief Administrative Officer of the Petaluma Health Center, has been working for years to try to increase the number of Latino health care workers. He says that of the 35-thousand patients they serve, about half are Latino.

A 2016 Sonoma County health survey found that Latinos are more likely to suffer from chronic disease and less likely to access behavioral health care than their white neighbors. Toledo says that improvements in the care for Latino patients might come from the cultural and demographic background of their healthcare providers. “We have a goal to make sure that our workforce actually reflects the community we serve in,” Toledo says. “For various reasons. One is just being able to connect from a cultural standpoint with patients.”

Toledo says that many of their employees are immigrants, and dozens are DACA recipients. He says, “In our area, DACA students and DACA participants are a big segment of the community and represent a significant number of the workforce, including here at the Petaluma Health Center.”

If DACA goes away, Pedro says Petaluma Health Center’s hopes to recruit more Latino caregivers would suffer. “It would devastate our operations,” he says.

For the clinic – and for others – it’s becoming harder to keep and recruit workers. A study published by Duke University Press found that anti-immigration policy leads to less participation in any public institution. It’s what’s called “cautious citizenship,” and makes Latino citizens and non-citizens avoid situations that bring their status into question.

Hector Hernandez is a brand new medical assistant at the Petaluma Health Center. Hernandez says that the uncertainty of the future of the DACA program is keeping his peers from seeking jobs. “It’s just putting that fear out there that you may not know what’s going to happen today or tomorrow,” he says.


REPORTER: Margaret Katcher

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