The sound of bachata and reggaeton music begins to fade into my hearing range as I walk towards the North Philadelphia Fairhill neighborhood that contains the largest concentration of Hispanics in Philadelphia. The multitude of Latin American national flags that line Allegheny Avenue wave proudly to all who pass by, functioning as a homemade cousin to Philly’s famous Benjamin Franklin parkway. I turn into a large multicolored building which could double as an avant-garde piece of modern art, arriving at Maria De Los Santos.
As a Care Navigator at Maria De Los Santos (MDLS), my primary role is to reach out to members of this community who have dropped in to receive care at one point or another. My mission is to educate patients about preventative health tools and disease prevention resources such as colorectal cancer screenings, diabetes care, and flu shot campaigns. The goal of this effort is to encourage patients to come in to Maria De Los Santos to take control of their health on a more regular basis. This not only helps patients lead healthier and more fruitful lives, but it also cuts down on patient hospitalization and reduces healthcare costs, making MDLS a key player in a healthcare model designed to increase primary care usage and alleviate reliance on expensive emergency services.
The primary care services offered at MDLS are standard among many health centers, but what makes MDLS unique is the population we serve. A vast majority of our patient population is Hispanic, many of whom speak Spanish as a first language and many have recently immigrated to the United States. The concept of preventative care is foreign to many we serve; thus patient education is crucial. Patients diagnosed with conditions such as diabetes and hypertension often don’t know exactly what their diagnoses mean or how they should go about managing their health moving forward.
Maria De Los Santos was founded specifically to treat this population of patients. Almost all staff members speak fluent Spanish and many are native speakers. During the fall, I assisted with a diabetes education class that met weekly and offered a management approach tailored specifically to the MDLS patient population. The class was all encompassing, providing information about what exactly diabetes is, how to use a blood glucose meter, what a dietary changes should be made, and even how to gain the mental fortitude needed to stick to a diet and exercise plan. Unfortunately, diabetes is an epidemic throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico, where a diet high in carbs and sugar is pervasive. Therefore, the classes focused specifically on modifying a Latin American diet and addressing other unique qualities of the population we serve at Maria De Los Santos.
In all areas of care, MDLS has been able to meet its patients’ needs by integrating into the community. Many of the employees -- from providers, to insurance specialists, to medical assistants -- have grown up in the same North Philadelphia Hispanic neighborhood where MDLS is located. Others are immigrants to the United States themselves, coming from countries like the Dominican Republic and Guatemala -- to name just a couple. The tight knit community this creates often means providers and patients know each other’s families and, in some cases, have even grown up together. The community support Maria De Los Santos is built upon allows it to flourish by fostering a familiar, reliable, and comforting environment for our patients.