By Dr. Ricardo Romo
The June 28, 2020 article “Learning from Hispanic Americans” by New York Times opinion writer Nicholas Kristof got my attention. Kristof explored how the Latino social fabric is helping those in need during the pandemic crisis. As a start, he quoted researchers interested in the “Hispanic Paradox,” who have found Latinos enjoy a “life expectancy of 81.8 years, compared with 78.5 for whites and 74.9 years for blacks.” It is a paradox, Kristol offers, because the “disadvantaged normally live shorter lives.”
In addition to living longer, Kristol concluded from studies dating back to 1974 that Latinos “have lower suicide rates than whites, are less likely to drink alcohol, are less likely to die from drug overdoses and, at least among immigrants, appear to commit fewer crimes.”
David Hays-Bautista, a UCLA scholar who has spent the last 35 years studying Latino health issues, may well be one of the scholars that gave Kristof insights on Latino health issues. Hays-Baustista is perhaps the first scholar to offer that the health data for Latinos presented a paradox. He commented, “Latinos across the nation have less income, less education, less access to health care and yet we have nationally 30% lower mortality for heart disease, 35% lower cancer mortality, 25% stroke mortality, 60% lower respiratory disease, a 30% lower cause of death rate compared to non Hispanic whites. The one exception is diabetes.”
I met Hays-Bautista in the mid 1980s when he accepted a position in the School of Medicine at UCLA. He was completing his first book, The Burden of Support: The Young Latino Population in an Aging American Society published in 1988. At the time I was working closely with UT Austin LBJ professor, Dr. Jorge Chapa, a former graduate student of Hays-Bautista at UC Berkeley. As a Vice Provost at UT Austin, I had consulted with Chapa and fellow UT History professor David Montejanjo on the “top ten percent” concept which they first proposed and which was eventually accepted as an admission policy by UT Austin and other Texas universities.
Hays-Bautista, Chapa, and Montejano were a new generation of Latino scholars. Their ability to use large U.S.Census data to address Latino social disparities set them apart. Hays-Bautista used 1980-1990 census data to show that Mexican immigrants had better health outcomes than second and third generation Mexican Americans. Chapa used census data to show higher education enrollment disparities for Latinos.
We are living in new and frightening different times. Covid-19 strikes healthy and unhealthy individuals. Its pathogen is not partial to any one race or ethnic group. But Latinos have a higher infection rate compared to Whites because they work in essential industries where they are often in close proximity to many other co-workers and where they do not always have the sufficient masks, gloves, and cleaning solutions critical to prevent infection.
According to a recent June 12 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], age-adjusted hospitalization rates are highest among non-Hispanic, American Indian, or Alaska Native, and non-Hispanic black persons, followed by Hispanic or Latino persons. The CDC report noted Hispanic or Latino persons have a hospitalization rate approximately 4 times that of non-Hispanic white persons. While this is an alarming rate, there does not appear to be any special efforts by state or federal officials to add additional resources to lessen the Latino health threat. Additionally, a shortage of Latino nurses and doctors is one of the most pressing issues during this pandemic.
For over twenty years Hays-Bautista has been expressing concerns over the low number of Latinos in the medical fields. He commented to Latino Leaders Magazine: that the Latino community lacks access to health care and that there are not enough doctors and nurses and other health care professionals who speak Spanish.
Until recently there were few Latino university scholars or administrators who could address the low number of Latinos studying in highly competitive medical schools. We are encouraged by the work of Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who as president of the University of Texas Health Science Center [UTHSC], allowed high performing students in the health sciences at most Texas universities to apply to the San Antonio medical or dental school after three years of college. This innovative policy has helped in the recruitment of Latinos, many of whom have been able to save thousands of dollars by attending one less year of college before entering medical school.
It is certainly true that the Latino social fabric is strong. There is strength in the Latino family structure and in Latino communities where religion and culture provide powerful binding forces. However, much more systemic change is needed. There are numerous uncertainties in this pandemic era which is now responsible for more 130,000 American deaths in just the last four months. Our nation needs a vaccine. We also need health care insurance to assist those who need testing but may not have the funds to pay for it. We know that hospitalization is expensive. Even preventive care is not affordable to the majority of families without programs like Obamacare. Lastly, we need to hold our politicians accountable. This is not the time for six-hour lines to get tested for Covid-19 or to vote. This is not a time for the Republican administration to launch their third challenge to the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court in their attempt to take away access to health insurance needed by millions of Americans.