Central Delaware
Health care language issues rise for Hispanics

DOVER — With Delaware’s Hispanic population rapidly growing, potential language barriers are a new concern for officials at the forefront of health care reform.

From 2000 to 2010, the state’s Hispanic population increased 96.4 percent, while Asian, white and black populations increased 75.6 percent, 5.8 percent and 27.3 percent, respectively.

Daniel Blevins, chair of the Delaware Population Consortium, attributes the ethnicity’s growth to the significant housing boom in the late 2000s, as well as the rise in service industry jobs in the state.

He notes that the rise in jobs is especially pervasive in Sussex County, as its Hispanic population nearly tripled from 6,915 in 2000 to 16,954 in 2010.

As more individuals retire to the resort area, the need for goods and services — including restaurants and grocery stores — becomes year-round. A decent percentage of the Hispanic population fills full-time jobs after seasonal employees leave their summer employment, Mr. Blevins said.

“It’s a busier area in October and November,” he said, which in turns increases employment opportunities.

But increased employment coincides with an increased need for health care.

“It’s the fastest growing population along with our aging population,” said Rita Landgraf, secretary of Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services.

As a member of the Delaware Health Care Commission, the secretary has piloted many of the changes following the signing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which includes adding a state-specific marketplace, acting as a one-stop shop for health insurance.

Open enrollment in the state’s health insurance marketplace for small businesses and individual consumers begins Oct. 1 through the Web portal

The portal, as well as any marketing media from brochures to commercials, will be available in Spanish and English to address issues with language barriers.

The federal government is offering a 24/7 call center to answer questions in 150 languages.

“It’s definitely a good first step,” said Javier Torrijos, chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission.

“Then you have to have people on the ground. And that’s what’s really going to make a difference.”

Certified language interpreters should be available in hospitals, he said, so relatives would not have to bear the brunt of translating from patient to doctor or vice versa.

“That is not professional, that is not proper,” he said. “According to the HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws too.”

He recalled a time when, as an 8-year-old, he acted as a translator for his mother, who was seeing a physician for arthritis.

“My mother didn’t speak a lick of English,” Mr. Torrijos said. “Seeing my mother get a shot for arthritis ... I thought I was going to pass out.”

His mother was fully unaware of her rights, and he said he would not be surprised if similar cases are happening day-to-day.

“Are the hospitals going to be required to handle the Hispanic population?” he wondered.

There are also gaps in the health care system when it comes to individuals who are undocumented immigrants.

“It’s tough,” Mr. Blevins said, when it comes to trying to track the individuals. The most the consortium can do is rely on hospital or birth records, which can be inconsistent.

Many undocumented individuals may be eligible for Medicaid, Secretary Landgraf said, but due to their status they do not have access to such federal programs.

“We want everyone to have access to health care, for all of us, it is good for us,” she said. “[But] they don’t want to be found because they are fearful.”

For more information on Delaware’s health care marketplace visit

The federal government’s 24/7 Call Center — (800) 318-2596 or TTY (855) 889-4325 — can answer questions in 150 languages.

Staff writer Jen Rini can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow DSNJen_Rini on Twitter.