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Health liaisons help bridge gap between minority communities, health care systems

'It’s so important to have messengers in the community'
Posted at 1:00 PM, Dec 14, 2020

DENVER, Colo. — Navigating the U.S. health care system can be daunting. It’s even harder for those who don’t speak English. However, some programs are trying to bridge the gap between these communities and health care providers.

“A Vietnamese patient that lived near by here, she ran across the street and she got hit. On that day, she was rushed to the hospital and she was in the ICU. I was in the ICU for three night,” said Father Joesph Dang as he rehashed a tough memory.

The young woman he’s talking about passed away. Her family spoke little to no English and he had to help them navigate through the health care system.

“The family was in shock. The language was a language barrier,” said Dang.

Dang is a community liaison with Denver Health. He works with the Fredrico F. Pena Family Health Center in the heart of the Vietnamese American community in Denver.

As a community liaison, Dang focuses on outreach with his community and helping patients navigate the health system.

“I speak Vietnamese. This how I come to support Denver Health by navigating, by giving our patients guidance, also tell them what kind of services that we offer here,” said Dang.

That may not sound like a lot, but having a familiar face that speaks the same language as you can be a big deal to minority patients.

“I think language is the first step of course. It’s hard to communicate with anyone if the messaging, the public health messaging, the hotlines, and the places that are set up don’t have the language that someone speaks,” said Kathleen Page.

Page is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and helped start the Hopkins Organization for Latino Awareness which tries to improve health outcomes for the Latino community. She says the role of community liaisons is invaluable.

“It’s so important to have messengers in the community. I can say to people, you know, I’m a doctor, trust me, please come to the hospital, we’ll take care of you. I think it means a lot more if someone who has been in the hospital says trust me, I went to the hospital, I got care, and now here I am,” she said.

Page says it’s not surprising when certain minority groups experience bad health outcomes at higher rates.

“When a group of is excluded from everything, excluded from services, excluded from health care and also in a way encouraged, or feel like they have to live in the shadows. It’s not surprising that when a public health emergency happens, they are going to be the ones that are left behind,” said Page.

For Dang, his goal remains clear, to provide a bridge from his community to better health.

“I want to bring first class service to our Vietnamese American community. What does that mean? Meaning speak in their own language, understand their culture, and understand the gap between western medicine and the eastern medicine," said Dang.