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Marga Pimental’s eyes scanned the hall of the Renaissance Adult Day Health Care Center in Providence and she noted a commonality of those seated at oval tables filling the room.
“Many of the people here came from different countries – mostly poor countries – and each of those countries had its own type of health care,” said the 54-year-old, originally from Puerto Rico. “So for all of us, the health system in the United States is different. It’s much better, but very complicated.”
Pimental was among more than 50 Providence residents, mostly Spanish-speaking and over the age of 50, who attended one of numerous health forums being held throughout the state by Lifespan Community Health Institute. Lifespan is asking for public input on health issues that concern them. The forums are part of Lifespan’s Community Health Needs Assessment.
Pimental and many in attendance at Renaissance said their local hospital, Rhode Island Hospital, could do a better job of communicating to the diverse neighborhoods of South Providence. For example, Pimental believes more interpreters are needed at the hospital and that more health education materials should be available in Spanish and other languages.
“It’s about gaining knowledge. I think the hospital has services available, but many people don’t know they exist,” she added.
Facilitated by community liaisons and hospital personnel, the two-hour health forum included an informal poll to identify what this group saw as their top health concerns. Access to community-based depression services, healthy living programs, expensive medication, emergency department wait times and limited health education topped the list.
Carrie Bridges Feliz, director of the Lifespan Community Health Institute, reiterated the value of these forums to Lifespan. “None of the feedback has been surprising, thus far, but it’s nonetheless important to have this ongoing conversation with the communities we serve. With the community's feedback, we can make more informed decisions about how to use our limited resources to achieve the greatest impact on the community.”
Joselina Reyes, a community liaison hired by Lifespan to facilitate the forum, said the forums themselves are part of the process of improving community health.
“The most important thing is for Lifespan to get information from the community, but also share information. People are learning about the resources available,” she said. Reyes, originally from the Dominican Republic, said her first encounter with Lifespan was when she attended a community health class hosted by the health system.
“And, I kept on going to all of these classes. I think, like me, people want to be healthy and have healthy families,” Reyes added. “That’s what Lifespan wants, too, and the community now has the chance to help.”