Community Health Centers Provide a Lifeline for the Hispanic Community

Solo photo of RIC alumna Paola Martinez
Rhode Island College Impact

CEHC emphasizes culturally and linguistically appropriate care, focusing on prevention and health maintenance.

There are twelve community health centers and free clinics around Rhode Island which offer affordable care, assistance and medical services to 171,000 people from low-income communities, many of whom are from the Hispanic community.  

One of those healthcare providers is Clínica Esperanza/Hope Clinic (CEHC), founded in 2007 by a group of medical volunteers to offer primary medical care to uninsured Rhode Islanders and guarantee that quality care comes from caregivers who are fully integrated in the community.

Paola Martinez (pictured above), a current RIC student in the Community Health Worker Certification program, is one of those caregivers. She works as a Navegantes (“navigators”) coordinator at CEHC. The Navegantes advance training is a program to train bilingual community members in case management, outreach, health education, advocacy and medical interpreting. The six people on Martinez’s team help patients navigate the health system, apply for free care and access health services, and locate community resources.  

“The clinic is multicultural, so we have patients and volunteers from many nationalities and cultural backgrounds,” she explains, adding, “But 80 percent of all patients at CEHC are Hispanic.” In Rhode Island, people from the Hispanic community represent nearly a quarter of the uninsured. 

With twelve core staff members and more than 300 medical and non-medical volunteers, CEHC emphasizes culturally and linguistically appropriate care, focusing on prevention and health maintenance, and giving patients the tools they need to improve their quality of life.

Stefanny DeJesus ’19, a RIC Community and Public Health alumna, explains that health education is often lacking in the Hispanic community, and that many problems could be prevented by increasing health literacy within that community. “Public health is creating all these interventions, and developing all of these techniques to help people live longer and change their lifestyles,” she notes. 

For Martinez, education and prevention are key elements to improve health outcomes. As a Latina, she believes that her community in particular has a misconception of what healthy is. “We need to be educated and develop this kind of awareness about what healthy looks like and why it is good for us,” she says. 

CEHC works towards that goal with programs that include a women’s health clinic, a healthy lifestyle intervention program, a childhood obesity prevention program, domestic violence support groups, and health screenings.

“Most of our participants in the programs are Hispanic,” says Martinez. “Actually many of the programs that we are running now are conducted in Spanish.”.

The Navegantes are certified community health workers in charge of running programs at CEHC such as Vida Sana, which provides training for patients to learn how to eat healthy and subsequently improve their life styles. Vida Pura, a behavioral health program that helps patients overcome addictions (like alcoholism or drug abuse) and any trauma that comes with that behavior. 

“We already have a lot of really good programs, and now we are providing COVID testing in our clinic and pop-up testing sites at some partner organizations’ location,” Martinez notes. This is crucial because both local and national data have shown that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black and Hispanic communities; in Rhode Island, this impact has been especially pronounced in Providence and Central Falls were 46 percent of the positive COVID-19 cases are from the Hispanic community.

“Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age,” reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

DeJesus believes that those numbers are going up in large part because of socio-economic, rather than health-related, factors. “Many members of these communities can only get jobs through an agency. That means they would rather go to work sick than stay home, because it’s money they need to pay for rent and food,” she explains. “When they are sick, they cannot afford to stay home. Most of them do not have access to healthcare or insurance, and because our healthcare system is so expensive, they cannot afford to go to the hospital.” 

Martinez believes another factor driving the infection rate among the Hispanic community was a gap of information that they didn’t receive early on. “For example, a lot of the official information and press releases were in English. It caused miscommunication and not getting the right information on time,” she notes.

Both Martinez and DeJesus decided to go into community and public health because they see their own community in need. Both have a strong inner passion to help others and try to change a broken system by giving the patients the tools to improve their health. 

“Here in RI we need to open new opportunities for the community to obtain health insurance.” Says Martinez, “thankfully we have places like Clínica Esperanza that is providing health care to people who doesn’t have insurance, like other health centers that are covering those necessities in our community.”