October is Health Literacy Month.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Health Literacy Month. This annual, worldwide, awareness-raising event is a time for organizations and individuals to promote the importance of understandable health information.
According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy. This is a particular problem for those with limited English, reading, and writing skills. People who struggle to understand health literacy are more likely to have chronic conditions and are less able to manage them effectively; they visit the emergency room more often, and they make less frequent use of preventative services (more facts here).
In short, health literacy is essential for everyone.
TEACHING BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
At Lace Elementary School, Jessica Johnson teaches a bilingual class where all 10 students come from Spanish-speaking families. In this setting, she has repeatedly witnessed the struggles that can come from poor health literacy, amplified by a language barrier.
Take, for example, the student who began using an inhaler. The parent sent the child to school with a doctor’s note saying the child needed an inhaler. But no inhaler accompanied the note. Why? The form was in English, and the parent did not understand the directions to send the inhaler to school. Jessica had to call and help the parent follow the doctor’s orders.
Jessica is in a unique position to advocate for her class and community. She is up for the task, and she and her students are doing great work to improve understanding and communication. In a future issue of a The Spark Blog post, we’ll share more inspiration from Jessica and her students. Keep an eye out!
Literacy DuPage focuses on health literacy, too.
At Literacy DuPage, we take health literacy so seriously that we have devoted an initiative to it. Through our Health Literacy Initiative, we are determined to give our adult learners the skills they need to be strong communicators and healthy members of the community.
As part of the initiative, we equip all our tutors to cover health-related topics with every learner in our one-on-one program. We also maintain an active relationship with AMITA Health and with healthcare organizations throughout the county, encouraging them to notice when language might be a barrier to a patient’s healthcare—and to refer those patients to Literacy DuPage for help.
AMITA HEALTH: SERVING OUR COMMUNITY
AMITA Health is a key community partner in our Health Literacy Initiative. This non-profit organization is the largest faith-based healthcare provider and the largest Medicaid services provider in the state of Illinois. In many of the markets AMITA Health serves, their patients are considered vulnerable persons.
In 2017, we began partnering with AMITA Health. Thanks to Shannon Jermal, the AMITA Health System Director, Community Benefit, today, our information is displayed in five different AMITA Health hospitals and outpatient centers. Look for our interview with Shannon in an upcoming The Spark Blog post.
Distributing information to patients is important. But the real collaboration takes place when AMITA Health provides a referral to Literacy DuPage. For example, when a provider or a case manager notices someone who could use our services, they provide Literacy DuPage contact information in the patient’s discharge paperwork.
Another aspect of our partnership with AMITA Health is Aunt Bertha: a web-based, social service search engine that is available to anyone with an internet connection–including people who work inside AMITA Health. When a staff member identifies a patient whose language barrier may be creating challenges even outside of AMITA Health, they can help that person find help through Aunt Bertha. With a few clicks, the staff can instantly send an electronic referral to, say, Literacy DuPage!
Many individuals who live in poverty often live in a crisis mode. Finding their own way to social services can be a difficult task. AMITA Health tries to remove that burden from the patient. At a glance, a healthcare provider can see that a patient has been referred to an organization for help, then offer guidance and help to be proactive in getting the services they need.