Linfield College and Salem Health team up to address health care disparities

With the rising cost of health care commanding national attention, health care disparities among diverse populations are often overlooked. Linfield College and Salem Health have partnered to find solutions. They are working to increase the number of Latino nurses available to care for the mid-Willamette Valley’s growing population.

Latinos make up more than 10 percent of the population in Oregon, but Latino registered nurses are only 1 percent of the health care workforce. The chance of a Latino patient being cared for by a nurse native to the patient’s culture is even lower in Marion County, where Latinos are 22 percent of the population.

“When people seek health care, they are seeking comfort,” says Laurie Barr, human resources director for Salem Health. “When you are sick, you are very vulnerable. It can be terrifying if you don’t understand the language. When we are in a different country and don’t speak the language, it’s frustrating just ordering items from a menu. In the hospital, families are talking about life and death issues.”

A 323 percent increase in Latino nursing students

To increase the number of Latino registered nurses, Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing on Linfield’s Portland campus began an innovative initiative in 2004, Ayudando Podemos (“Helping each other, we can do it”).

“We saw an increase in Latino enrollment from 2.6 percent in the 2002–03 academic year to 8.4 percent last year,” says Peggy Wros, associate dean for the nursing school. “The program provides a model for colleges across the country and addresses the underrepresentation of nurses in Oregon’s workforce. Ayudando Podemos recruits Latino high school students from high schools and colleges in Oregon, helping them obtain Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing.”

Orientation sessions are given to families, and students are provided with scholarships, support groups, advising, bilingual support, and tutoring for courses and the licensing exam for nurses. Many program graduates mentor other aspiring Latino students.

“Many of our parents didn’t go to college,” says Linfield nursing graduate Judy Ulibarri, who now mentors other nursing students. “When you’re talking about students who don’t come from that background, it’s a huge leap.

“Nursing school is the most intense thing I’ve ever done, and I sometimes wondered if it was a bridge or a cliff,” Ulibarri says, “but the professors and staff were encouraging and supportive. I really appreciate the experience they gave me.”

The program has earned national recognition for Linfield, receiving one of three honorary mentions in the U.S. from Excelencia in Education, a national organization accelerating Latino success in higher education.

More Latino nurses at Salem Hospital

Linfield’s success also means success for Salem Health’s drive to improve culturally sensitive care for patients.

“We are increasing the diversity of our applicant pool, and Linfield College is one of the major programs on our radar screen,” says Barr, who hired Latino Linfield grads to fill a quarter of Salem Hospital’s 2009 summer intern slots. Many graduates were recruited through the Ayudando Podemos program.

Salem Health, Salem Hospital’s parent organization, works to provide an inclusive environment, with multicultural campus signs, patient education materials in Spanish and Russian, and interpretation services available in dozens of languages.

In the past six months, under the leadership of new Diversity Manager Ed Wilgus, Salem Health has redoubled efforts to hire diverse candidates, provide cultural training for existing employees, engage in targeted community outreach, and increase awareness of diverse cultural traditions and medical beliefs. Salem Health will soon hold a certified nurse assistant class specifically for bilingual and bicultural candidates.

“When you look at the diversity of Marion County, you see more diversity than in many places in California,” says Wilgus. “Forty-six percent of children in the Salem-Keizer School District come from non-European backgrounds. Thirty-six languages are spoken in the community, with Spanish being the most prevalent after English.”

Photo: Karen Bastian, student at Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing

Ayudando Podemos

Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing

Public News Service story

Salem Health