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LEE COUNTY: Health department, schools work to integrate Latinos

LEE COUNTY: Health department, schools work to integrate Latinos
Brown, Brandi. McClatchy – Tribune Business News [Washington] 27 Sep 2015.

Sept. 27–SANFORD — The Lee County Health Department and Lee County Schools are making moves to address and accommodate the growing Hispanic population — although concerns remain in a report released earlier this week.

The Latino Migration Project, a service of the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill, studies the integration of Hispanic and Latino immigrants into various North Carolina communities. Researchers published findings Monday from a year-long assessment of local immigrant residents.

That study was conducted as part of a three-year Sanford Building Integrated Communities (BIC) project, a collaborative initiative of the city of Sanford, local residents and organization leaders, and The Latino Migration Project.

The results of the study show that access to health care and education are two priorities for the 19 percent of Lee County residents who identify themselves as Hispanic.

Lee County Health Department’s Health Education Supervisor Ashley Graham served on the study’s planning committee. The health department, she said, sees many Spanish-speaking clients.

For people who speak Spanish, Graham said the department employs two interpreters who can meet with clients. The department also contracts with a language line that providers at the clinic call if there is someone who speaks a different language and needs assistance.

The department also makes an effort to provide information in brochures and pamphlets in English and Spanish. LeeCAN, a local community action network, has a list of mental health providers and identifies in their literature whether the provider can assist Spanish-speaking patients, Graham said.

“We pass those out to our clients who we think may be in need of a mental health referral,” she said. “We also have health information in both English and Spanish that we have available at places like the library and Helping Hands Clinic [a clinic for people who are uninsured in Sanford].”

One of the concerns cited in the report is the lack of available health care services and transportation to those services. While Lee County doesn’t have a full public transit system, it does have COLTS (County of Lee Transit System), and Executive Director Debbie Davidson said it’s a place people can call to get transportation to the health clinic.

“All of the service options can be difficult to explain,” she said. “We have a DASH vehicle that goes in a loop to popular Sanford sites, much like a city bus. The fare is $2. Then we have contract with agencies like Senior Services and CCCC, and we can pick people up through them. The best way to find out whether we can help with your transportation needs is to call us.”

The COLTS office can be reached at (919) 776-7201.

Davidson said the system also is working to improve services for bilingual residents. COLTS recently hired a bilingual phone operator who works noon to 5 p.m., and it has a bilingual driver.

Concerns about education in the report include both youth and adults. In particular, the study cites a concern about communication with immigrant parents.

Lynn Warren, director of the English as a second language and secondary literacy for Lee County Schools, said the school system has a number of programs in place to assist with communication.

“We have teacher assistants who are bilingual. They perform typical jobs of teacher assistants but also are available to speak with parents when needed,” she said. “We have a parent liaison who has worked to contact parents directly through phone calls to invite them to events.”

The school system has become a conduit in addressing several community-related concerns of Spanish-speaking parents. Warren said various schools have parents’ nights conducted in Spanish.

“We’ve had police officers participate and discuss safety and security issues, including gang prevention. We also have a bilingual social worker who can help families,” she said.

Efforts are ongoing to have bilingual staff members available and to help teachers learn how to modify assignments for students with limited English proficiency, Warren said.

The next step in the Latino Migration Project for Sanford is collaboration on a city-wide integration action plan. Anyone who wishes to be part of this planning may call (919) 966-1484. The report is now available to the public in English at bit.ly/1LFND57, and a full Spanish translation also will be published online and distributed.

Credit: The Sanford Herald, N.C.
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