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Building connections: Improving access to care in Hispanic communities

Argentina won the World Cup in December, and I’m still basking in the glow.  

I couldn’t have asked for a better setting to watch the hair-raising final match. I went to Che Empanadas in downtown Raleigh, where the Argentine owner, Anabel, was streaming the game from an Argentinian TV station. I sat there with a random assortment of (mostly) strangers, drinking mate (the Argentine herbal tea, pronounced "mahteh"), and screaming at the screen with joy – then frustration – and then joy again.  

Several of the makeshift friends around me were from my mother’s homeland. Most of us were speaking Spanish, and all of us were united by a shared passion for the game. The match was spectacular, and likely the standout final in World Cup history. But it was the spontaneous sense of community that made the experience so uplifting. 

In times of celebration, being surrounded by people who truly understand “where we’re coming from” is one of the great pleasures in life. When our health is at stake, that sense of connection is an absolute necessity.  

The link between a World Cup soccer final and the state of North Carolina’s health care system might seem like a stretch at first, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about following my recent visit to Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center.  

I had joined the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) leadership team there when our Extra Miles Tour rolled into Hertford County. We learned about the variety of ways the Center meets the needs of the 17,000 patients it serves, but one aspect of their work struck me in particular: a commitment to building a workforce that represents – and programs that reach into – the communities it serves. 

Blue Cross NC shares that commitment. When you are sitting in a doctor’s office feeling scared because you are sick, or confused by the options ahead of you, or maybe just anxious about routine care, feeling a disconnect with the provider in front of you is the last thing anyone needs. Having a provider who can communicate with you – who understands your unique needs and concerns – is a critical, and often underappreciated, aspect of what we mean when we talk about access to care. 

Cultivating mutual understanding

Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center has implemented a number of life-changing programs that make it easier for people in Hertford, Bertie, Gates, Northampton, and Washington counties to get vital services.   

With support from Blue Cross NC, the Center launched its TRIP (transporting residents with innovative practices) pilot program, which helps low-income patients who suffer from chronic diseases, physical injuries, substance abuse, and mental illness with transportation. The Blue Cross NC Foundation provided funds to help build and equip a safety net clinic offering preventive and restorative dental care in Bertie County.  

Expanding access isn’t just about getting patients to the places that provide care. It’s about “meeting patients where they are,” as the saying goes, in all senses of the word: physically, psychologically, linguistically, and culturally. 

When a provider and patient really connect, it eases anxiety and makes patients more receptive to care; promotes health literacy; and decreases the risk of diagnostics errors, missed screenings, harmful treatment interaction, infections, and other patient-safety issues. 

This fundamental principle of care is why the Center’s agricultural worker health program has been so effective. The program provides a host of services to the seasonal migrant workers who are so important to the region’s (and the entire eastern seaboard’s) agricultural economy: immunizations, dental care, medical screenings, education around pesticide exposure and injury prevention, and more. 

The Center strategized the delivery of these services around the workers’ needs to maximize reach and effectiveness. Its mobile clinic goes to fields and other sites where these patients work. More than that, the clinic schedules these visits at night so patients don’t have to choose between earnings and care.  

Importantly, the outreach is bilingual. Many of the people the program serves haven’t been to a doctor in years because they face overwhelming barriers to care. The Center is committed to the work of helping break down those barriers. The staff at Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center understand that lifestyle, language and cultural differences shouldn’t be obstacles to good health. 

Investing in community

I’m writing this article in the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month, feeling especially proud to be part of a company that shares the values of (and supports) organizations like Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center. Blue Cross NC doesn’t just celebrate North Carolina’s many different communities – we are fully committed to making sure our state’s health care system is responsive to the needs and receptive to the opportunities in those communities. 

We are improving access to mental health care and increasing the workforce of bilingual mental health providers through our support of organizations like El Futuro and Centro Unido Latino Americano. Late last year, Blue Cross NC’s Healthy Blue Medicaid plan provided $125,000 in funding for El Centro Hispano’s Health Mobile Unit and Community Health Worker team, which deliver preventive health screenings, health education and connection to health resources for Hispanic community members. Through our Extra Miles Tour and the work of our community engagement representatives stationed in counties from the mountains to the coast, we are always on the lookout for new opportunities to strengthen Hispanic families and community health at the local level. 

Blue Cross NC is guided by our purpose to improve the health and well-being of our customers and communities. That’s why we are leading the charge to make care more accessible and to break down barriers to the resources we all need to lead healthy lives. We won’t stop until health care is better for all. 

Aquí para ti. Aquí para todos. Here for you. Here for everyone.  

authors photo

Santiago Estrada, JD

Santiago Estrada, JD

Chief Legal Officer

Santiago Estrada is chief legal officer at Blue Cross NC. He is responsible for Blue Cross NC’s operations related to legal, audit, government affairs, health policy, compliance and external communications.

He's proud to play a role in supporting Blue Cross NC’s mission of better health care for all.

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