Spanish-speaking patients find familiar care at Redwood City clinic 

A new health clinic in Redwood City is working to provide a welcoming and more familiar environment for Latino patients by offering bilingual services to help make them feel at ease when receiving care.

The Salud en Español clinic opened this year in the Cypress Building at Kaiser Permanente's Redwood City Medical Center. It is designed to serve the Peninsula's growing Spanish-speaking population by providing individuals with care in their native tongue and treatment geared toward Latino cultural norms.

The facility, which is the first of its kind in San Mateo County, is based on similar Spanish- and Chinese-speaking models tested in Oakland, San Francisco and Antioch that have had positive results, clinic officials said.

"Spanish patients in Spanish clinics had better outcomes," said Dr. Victor Villacorta, the Spanish clinic module lead for Kaiser Redwood City. "That was an initial quantifiable barometer that showed that the clinics are not only nice, but are medically good for the people that we're serving."

Visits to the medical center from monolingual Spanish speakers had been on the rise, but oftentimes a language barrier occurred with physicians, Villacorta noted. By ensuring bilingual services are available, patients no longer have to use a phone-based translator as an intermediary when speaking with their doctors, he said.

When people can communicate directly in their native language, they're more open with physicians and more likely to properly implement care instructions and treatment plans, according to Villacorta.

The clinic is staffed by one internist, two family medicine doctors and one nurse practitioner, each fluent in Spanish who can treat basic illnesses and perform simple outpatient procedures. Since the clinic is an adult primary-care center, patients can be assigned permanently to individual doctors and can be referred to Spanish-speaking specialists in the Kaiser network when necessary.

All support staff, signage and health education materials in the facility are also bilingual, the interior and exterior of the building are painted with bright colors, and exam rooms are decorated with traditional Latin American artworks, such as paintings by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

"When a patient comes here, they find themselves in a culturally sensitive clinic," Villacorta said. "Culture impacts health care and healthier outcomes. One of the cultural attitudes is towards diet and exercises."

The doctor added that another key cultural factor the center seeks to address is the role of the extended family in the context of the patient.

"Latina patients bring their grandmother. They bring three kids and grandchildren. That would put off a lot of providers," Villacorta said. "We understand that it's important to the patient and their family. If the whole family buys into it, then the patient will be more likely to follow therapeutic advice."

The busy health care providers at the Salud en Español clinic see nearly 100 patients a day. Triage nurses are able to accommodate walk-in requests for urgent care, but patients are encouraged to call ahead to make an appointment, according to Villacorta.

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S. Parker Yesko

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