How to Help Latino Seniors? Ask Them

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Ari Gonzalez, a 65-year-old Sacramento resident, knows it could be worse.

She has diabetes, but uses Medicare to help cover her health costs. She struggles to make ends meet, but takes care of her nutrition needs through the use of Supplemental Security Income at local farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

But for some of her friends and other Latino seniors, daily life is even more difficult.

“I have friends gone homeless—their living expenses just got too high and haven’t found family members they can move in with,” she told me. “I am trying to find help for them but it’s not easy.”

Gonzalez was in the lobby of Clinica Tepati, waiting for her friend, who is uninsured and seeks care regularly at the UC Davis student-run clinic, which caters to Latino patients.

Community programs like this one are lifelines for many Latino seniors. Other California programs provide support for getting to the doctor’s office, finding housing and affording food—and these are critical to help people thrive in resource-poor neighborhoods.

But recent federal budget conversations are putting these programs at risk.

Rebecca DeLaRosa is the director of legislative affairs for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.

As an advocate at the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, I want to raise awareness of the benefits of community investment, particularly for our elder population. Many of them have experienced lifelong discrimination and, now as seniors, they do not deserve to have their benefits swept out from under them.

There’s still debate over which programs work best in California, and how to help the most amount of people in a cost-effective way. I say: If you want to know how to help Latino seniors, start by asking them.

As advocates, our advocacy approach has to be one that is community fact-based. We need to evaluate what is working and not working for real people. Seniors, by definition, have many decades of life experience and can share what is working or not working for them with a particular benefit or program.

Valuing Community Expertise

Whenever possible, organizations should collaborate with community members and acknowledge the expertise that comes from lived experience.

To do this effectively, we need to do relationship building with existing community-based organizations; hire staff from impacted communities; support ethnic-based organizations; indentify services and support systems in the community that can be strengthened; work with service and faith based organizations that are trusted messengers in communities; and engage directly with the community early in the planning process.

I have seen this work at Vision y Compromiso, a statewide organization where community health workers, known as “promotores de salud” in Spanish, participate and design workshops and conferences focused on advocacy and leadership. These meetings empower communities and allow them to share their best practices, for example.

Brown Issues Sacramento is also an organization I respect for its focus on youth empowerment, advocacy and leadership.

At Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, we have partnered with health equity and community serving organizations, such as Asian American Advancing Justice and Mi Familia Vota to train community leaders in advocacy to advance health equity. As a result, we have seen an increase in awareness and interest in advocacy efforts.

Involvement in Decision Making

When we include the voices of community members in the decision-making process, we come up with resolutions that they have a stake in and are more likely to support.

These steps also help us provide culturally appropriate information at the right literacy level to her community members. Meetings and trainings should take place where families live and we should consider providing incentives for attendance.

All of this takes time and resources. But it’s worth it, and we’re not starting from scratch: Latino communities have strong family and community ties, and support systems. If we can harness those, we can help address health inequities.

Gonzalez, and many other California seniors like her, would like to be part of the solution.

“My family and community keep me positive,” she told me. “I will like to receive some training to help my community. I would like to advocate for my friends and myself—where can I learn more?”

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