Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinos in California were relatively unlikely to use emergency medical services. But during the pandemic, across much of the state, use of these services by Latinos – specifically seeking treatment for respiratory illnesses – increased more than for non-Latino whites, according to a new report speak UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
The report’s authors compared the numbers for the first six months of 2020 to statistics for the same period in 2019. They analyzed data from the California Emergency Medical Services Information System, which includes information from the 33 local medical services agencies of state emergency, with the exception of Los Angeles County.
“While the study does not directly relate to about 30% of California Latinos who live in Los Angeles, others studies on the impact of COVID-19 on Latinos in Los Angeles would suggest the same phenomenon would occur in Los Angeles, âsaid Esmeralda Melgoza, a doctoral student at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and co-author of the report.
The results of the study suggest that emergency medical services statewide have an opportunity to improve their language and cultural literacy to better meet the needs of their Latino patients, according to the report.
The study identified factors that prevented Latinos from using emergency services before the pandemic, including their concerns about the costs of emergency medical care and fears that interaction with public safety officials might endanger their immigration status. But their use of emergency departments for urgent respiratory illnesses increased by a higher percentage than for non-Latino whites after the start of the pandemic.
The authors concluded that the disparity occurred in large part because of the toll COVID-19 has taken on essential workers and Latin American families in multigenerational households. They found that in the early months of the pandemic, white Californians were 10% less likely to call an ambulance or emergency care than Latino residents.
Numerous studies, including research conducted by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have shown that Latinos are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Only a third of Californians aged 50 to 64 are Latinos. But, from the start of the pandemic until August 19, 2021, more than 64% of Californians in that age group who died from COVID-19 were Latinos.
“The pandemic has made it clear which demographic groups face the worst outcomes in a public health crisis, and we have a unique opportunity to use these lessons to ensure that our medical services are better prepared to serve these populations in the future. ‘future’, said Arturo Vargas Bustamante, professor of health policy and management at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA and director of research at the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
The report recommends ways for emergency medical service providers and public safety officials to adapt to better serve Latinos, now that the pandemic has made Latinos more aware of emergency services:
- Raise awareness among Latino residents to educate them on how to access emergency medical services and allay their concerns about the costs and risks of immigration.
- Hire staff who speak Spanish and have the cultural skills to work with Latino patients.
- Offer financial assistance to low-income clients to ensure cost is not a barrier to life-saving care.