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pharmacist.jpgThe Alabama Cooperative Extension System has been awarded a Rural Health and Safety Education Grant totaling more than $178,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a project aimed to improve health literacy among rural Alabama residents who are learning English as a second language.   

Health literacy, which is the ability to read, understand and act on health information, is essential to ensuring that one receive the highest standard of health care.  In fact, studies have shown that this skill is a stronger indicator of health than income, age and race.

The lack of this skill affects a significant segment of the U.S. population.  In Alabama, one in four residents is considered functionally illiterate.  Among Alabama’s Hispanic residents, functional illiteracy appears to be almost 50 percent.

The project, which will be administered in eight counties, will focus on enhancing communication between these residents and their local health professionals, such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists and dentists.

Regional Extension agents and other Extension educators will partner with community health advocates and language teachers to deliver these services, which will be target Barbour, Bullock, Coffee, Cullman, Dale, DeKalb, Franklin and Marshall counties.

“Communications skills are critically important in ensuring that patients interact effectively with their health care providers,” says Laura Booth, an Alabama Extension outreach program administrator and one of several Extension team members who conceived the project.

“Health illiteracy is a problem for many people in Alabama, but especially for people who speak English as a second language,” she says.

Along with Booth, Dr. Kathleen Tajeu, Extension community health specialist, and Donna Shanklin, Extension regional agent, were instrumental in developing and securing funding for the project.

Booth says the project will focus primarily on counties with the highest concentration of Hispanic residents, because Alabama has one of the fast-growing Hispanic populations in the United States.

“Our health care system is quite different than in the countries from which many of these residents have emigrated, and one of the challenges remains learning how to navigate through this system, primarily by communicating effectively with providers.

“And it’s often not just doctors with whom they must communicate,” she says.  “In many cases, pharmacists, dentists and school nurses are first-line of providers for many of these residents.”

In addition to fostering a better understanding of how the U.S. and Alabama health care systems work, the project will also help participants better understand and apply information on food product labels and also how to identify the major components of these labels.

The project will also focus on enhancing participants’ understanding of how to manage chronic diseases, using asthma as a working example. 

Extension educators will use the curriculum “Staying Healthy: an English Learner’s Guide to Health Care and Healthy Living.”  It is written in plain language intended to be readily accessible to users and was developed in Florida by the Literacy Council’s Health Literacy Initiative.

These materials were later developed into a workshop series by the Wisconsin Literacy Network.

An advisory board comprised of Alabama Extension educators, community health advocates, English as second language teachers and members of the Alabama Literacy Coalition will meet regularly and provide overall supervision of the project.

For more information, contact Laura Booth at (334) 844-5638.



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