The 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
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
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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