As the Hispanic community in Baltimore boomed in the last decade, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center responded by adding health programs to meet the population's unique needs.
Now the East Baltimore center is bringing all its past efforts — and some new ones — together under one umbrella with the creation of the Center of Excellence for Latino Health.
The center, which is in the strategic planning stage, seeks to provide more comprehensive care to Latino patients.
Medical staff will provide traditional services such as pediatric, psychiatric and obstetrics and gynecological care. The hope is that a research and advocacy component of the center will help staff better understand the needs of the Latino population and how to treat them.
"We'll be learning from the community and working with the community," said Dr. Tina Cheng, director of the Latino health center and director of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Bayview.
Cheng said the center was needed as the Latino community continues to grow at a rapid clip. Between 2000 and 2010, when Baltimore's overall population declined by more than 4 percent, the city's Latino community grew by nearly 135 percent, according to the Baltimore City Hispanic Commission. Latinos now make up 4.4 percent of all residents, according to census estimates. In Maryland, 8.7 percent of the state's total population is Latino.
Hispanic enclaves can be found mostly in Southeast Baltimore — in Fells Point, Highlandtown, Patterson Park, Canton and the neighborhoods around Hopkins Bayview. The Hispanic residents hail from Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and other parts of Central and South America.
Latinos in Baltimore tend to be recent arrivals without deep roots in the community. As they become more established, they are venturing into other areas.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said the Latino community is key to an initiative to gain 10,000 new families in the city in the next decade.
Catalina Rodriguez, head of the Baltimore City Hispanic Commission, said initiatives like the one at Hopkins Bayview are needed as the demographics of certain neighborhoods change.
"I think they are being extremely proactive in recognizing the growth of Latino groups and preparing themselves to serve this population who come with a set of needs, but also come with a set of assets that benefit the city," Rodriguez said about Bayview.
A report on the state of Latino health published in 2011 by the Baltimore City Health Department found that the population had a high rate of homicide and accidental injuries. But its members died less frequently from heart disease and cancer, leading causes of death among other ethnic groups. They also had lower rates of infant mortality.
Newly immigrated Latinos often avoid going to the doctor until there is an emergency because they lack insurance, are worried about their legal status, don't speak proficient English or find the cost to see a doctor is too high, the Health Department report found.
Children in Latino communities often deal with obesity and cavities, which become so bad that they cause children to miss school.
Some preventable diseases, such as diabetes, are rising in Latino communities because of the lack of regular medical attention.
The Latino center will work to address such health disparities, as well as cultural differences. Doctors may not understand all the cultural differences, but will be trained to ask and look for them, said Dr. Sarah Polk, a Hopkins assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine who will work with Cheng at the center.
For instance, people in some Latino cultures think it is OK to be a little overweight and may balk at a doctor's advising them to slim down, Polk said.
"We speak about this with all populations," Polk said. "Culture is very relevant to how we lead our lives. When you give advice to a family and you expect them to carry it out at home, it needs to be culturally relevant."
The center will have bilingual staff members and use interpreters to help break down language barriers that could otherwise hinder patient care.
The center will build on programs already at Bayview, including a parenting class based at the children's medical practice and the advocacy group Hopkins Organization for Latino Awareness, or HOLA, which has worked to improve the quality of health care for Latinos.
The Latino center at Hopkins Bayview was funded by a gift from the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation, which provides funding for projects in disadvantaged areas. Money was matched by Hopkins Bayview, the Johns Hopkins Health System and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Financial details were not disclosed.
"We are trying to understand the health needs of Latinos in the community and how we can better meet those needs," Cheng said.
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