It is Health Literacy Month.
It’s alarming to think that only 12% of American adults are considered health literate, according to the National Assessment of Adult Illiteracy. In other words, nine out of ten Americans lack the basic knowledge to manage their health and prevent disease. This holds true for the vulnerable populations of our country, including migratory and seasonal agricultural workers. These populations face barriers to a basic understanding of their health and to receiving appropriate health education.
Health Literacy – put simply – is one’s ability to understand and obtain health information. That is the simple definition. A much more complex definition resides in the specific factors and barriers contributing to a population’s lack of health literacy, which can correlate (not exclusively) to a person’s language, culture, location, and socioeconomic environment.
Migratory and seasonal agricultural workers face unique obstacles to managing their own health care, including access to transportation to services, language barriers, and (in some cases) not being treated well due to undocumented status. When blockades exist to access to health, one’s access to health education will also be barricaded.
Migrant and Community Health Centers strive for the elimination of health illiteracy among all their patients by providing preventive treatment and low literacy education materials for patients to learn more about a specific diagnosis or their risk factor(s).
The patient is not solely responsible for his or her healthcare and health education. Health center staff are being trained to become culturally competent in their respective positions. Cultural competency – according to Health.gov – “is the ability of health organizations and practitioners to recognize the cultural beliefs, values, attitudes, traditions, language preferences, and health practices of diverse populations, and to apply that knowledge to produce a positive health outcome. Competency includes communicating in a manner that is linguistically and culturally appropriate.”
NCFH prides itself on our ability to orient and train staff to implement cultural competency curriculums in the migrant and community health centers we serve. Participants of NCFH cultural competency courses learn to understand the meaning of diversity and its relationship and impact on communication and human relations. Along with that they increase awareness of their personal attitudes, beliefs and behaviors related to cultural diversity; and enhance skills for improved cross-cultural communication.
NCFH also offers low literacy and English/Spanish translation services in order to continue improving a patient’s health literacy.
Improving a health center staff’s cultural competence and patients' overall health literacy, allows for more involvement with, and awareness of, the diverse populations that health centers serve, and ultimately contributes toward eliminating one of the many barriers a patient faces related to health literacy.
By: Mindy Morgan
The National Center for Farmworker Health
Improving health care access for one of America's most vulnerable populations