A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the four-person staff of Detroit’s Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development Senior Wellness Center decided to go back to work. They didn’t take another day off for more than a year. Their clients, residents of an older Latino community in a low-income area of the city, needed help with basics like safely obtaining food and getting COVID-19 advisories translated into Spanish.
“The pandemic shone even more light on the many gaps in our systems,” says Guadalupe Lara, a social worker who served as the center’s director during the public health crisis.
She and colleagues helped isolated residents get prescriptions filled, talk with medical professionals, read nutrition labels and, eventually, get vaccinated.
“To keep people healthy, you have to provide content that is culturally congruent,” Lara says.
That’s the idea behind AARP Michigan’s Multicultural Health Forum, a one-day information blitz, planned for late spring/early summer, at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center, in East Lansing. Attendees will hear from public health experts skilled at reaching out to underserved communities, from older LGBTQ adults to people with disabilities to those with language barriers. The forum will include health screenings, an “Ask the Doctor” session and information on community resources. The sessions will be simultaneously translated into Spanish and Chinese.
“Everyone who attends will go home with a tool kit of resources,” says Paula Cunningham, AARP Michigan’s state director.
The forum was inspired in part by the 2020 “Disrupt Disparities 2.0” study that AARP Michigan commissioned from the research firm Public Sector Consultants (PSC). The report notes that shortfalls in areas that AARP perennially addresses with elected officials—such as uneven high-speed internet access, public transportation scarcity and poor pay for care workers—contributed to worse COVID-19 hardships for older residents, people of color and low-income households.
In some cases existing resources are going untapped. For example, the report points out that in 2017, more than 270,000 older Michiganians who qualified for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) hadn’t applied for the benefit, forgoing an estimated $335 million a year in aid.
Food insecurity contributes to poorer health care outcomes, notes Justin Fast of PSC. Low-income older adults who participate in SNAP are 23 percent less likely to require nursing home care and 46 percent less likely to be hospitalized, according to the report.
Such information may help overcome cultural resistance to food assistance, Fast says. “For many older adults there remains a stigma to accepting SNAP, but this is something they’ve paid for already with their tax dollars.”
People with disabilities also face barriers to health care and nutrition, such as lack of transportation, that can be overlooked by public health efforts, says
Alice Frame, a program coordinator at the state Department of Health and Human Services.
“My goal for this forum is to ensure that accessibility is taken into account,” Frame says.
For more information, visit Events at aarp.org/mi.
Melissa Preddy is a writer living in Plymouth, Michigan.
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