The largest minority in the United States is still growing, but so are healthcare disparities.
Cultural differences, language barriers and immigration are some of the issues causing havoc on the mental health of Hispanic communities in the United States, University of Miami nursing professors say.
UM clinical psychologist and research professor Daniel A. Santisteban said the majority of treatments implemented to help afflicted Hispanics do not consider cultural issues.
But this fall, UM’s Center of Excellence for Hispanic Health Disparities Research, more commonly known as El Centro, will offer students an introductory course that, for the first time, looks at the role culture plays on minorities’ health.
Denise Korniewicz, the senior associate dean for research at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, hopes the class will inform students about health disparities.
“It’s building on the whole idea on how you take care of people that come from different cultures,” she said.
According to Korniewicz, the course aims to train students from a variety of majors about the culturally sensitive healthcare situations they may encounter.
“We want to open up students’ eyes to what disparities mean, access to healthcare, what impact it has on our health system,” Korniewicz said. “How do I apply this knowledge, as a physician, a policy maker, or economics major?”
In 2007, UM received a $7 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to research and develop ways to improve the medical treatment of Hispanics.
Aside from the introductory course, El Centro also provides funding for health disparities research studies specific to Hispanics.
Santisteban, is spearheading a study involving 11 to 14-year-olds. The study analyzes the effectiveness and attributes of culturally informed family therapy for adolescents, according to El Centro’s Web site.
Clinical researchers meet with struggling Hispanic adolescents and their families one or two times a week for four months to prevent drug use, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. They also address conduct disorders. The adolescents are then assessed after 12 months and again after 16 months.
“There’s not a lot of treatment being tested and developed with Hispanics,” Santisteban said. “There are unique stressors that Hispanics have.”
For example, children from immigrated families assimilate to the new culture faster than the parents.
“This creates stress in the family because some parents might feel that the children are being too independent and disrespectful, when in fact they are just assimilated to another culture,” Santisteban said.
This research project is one year in, leaving four more to go before the culturally tailored family therapy can be labeled a success.
“We can see, clinically, how families respond to the treatment,” Santisteban said. “Families really like it, but we have to wait until the study is complete.”
Another research study named “HIV Intervention Reducing Health Disparities Among Hispanic Women” involves the efficacy of an HIV risk reduction intervention called SEPA, delivered by Hispanic women and tailored to the specific needs of Hispanic women, according to El Centro’s Web site.
The introductory course in health disparities, whose title is not yet specified, will count as a three credit elective.
Victoria Mitrani has signed on as the professor for the course and plans to teach it in an interactive way. Students will be encouraged to come up with their own hypotheses to the causes of health disparities and conduct statistic research.
“We are talking about inequities,” Mitrani said. “There are certain groups that are at a disadvantage when it comes to health. First we have to acknowledge them and then we have to look at the root causes.”
The course will be offered to students of different majors. The prerequisites are not yet determined.
Through March, faculty members will visit classrooms to explain why students should take the course.
“Are we really educating our workforce? Are we educating the future people about it, our young people, the future generation of health care physicians?” Korniewicz questioned.