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Many Latinos in Minnesota get “left out,” of the healthcare picture.
That’s why HealthFinders Collaborative aims to provider healthcare and services to marginalized families in Rice county, nearly 50 miles south of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
But HealthFinders leaders like Charlie Mandile continued to identify gaps in local healthcare.
Mandile and his team came up with a solution a few years ago: the Pura Vida Healthy Lifestyles Program, an effort to bring free preventive health and fitness classes to the local rapidly growing Latino population.
How has the effort paid off?
Gaps in Latino health in Minnesota
HealthFinders Collaborative, community health centers in Northfield, Minn. (8% Latino population), and Faribault, Minn. (11.74% Latino population) formed to provide comprehensive and individualized access to healthcare for Latino and other underserved populations in Rice County, Minnesota.
But by the mid-2000s, healthcare gaps remained, especially among Latinos.
Charlie Mandile, Executive Director of HealthFinders, said local Latinos often lacked access to proper nutrition and exercise, as well as opportunities for alleviating the effects of stress on mental health.
HealthFinders clinical programs had been limited to those who are uninsured or under-insured.
Initially offering primary medical and dental care, they decided to add more programs that specifically dealt with what was happening in the community.
“What we felt we needed to do was provide a place for access to health and health information for the community,” Mandile said. “We serve a pretty large and diverse Latino population in this area and we knew there were several factors preventing them from getting the care that they needed.”
First, they added programs to help community members cope with chronic disease management.
Then they had a big idea: add a wellness component with classes that could educate, inform, and engage people to prevent chronic disease before it started.
But after several years, the program needed revitalization.
Get people moving
In 2006, they added that preventive wellness component.
They called it the Pura Vida Healthy Lifestyle Program, and began offering Pura Vida health, nutrition, and fitness classes for free to Latinos in the towns of Faribault and Northfield.
“‘Pura Vida’ [Pure Life] … is the message we wanted it to convey to its participants,” Mandile said. “We wanted them to know it was not going to just be something about exercise or telling them how to eat. It needed to be a message about having a better life.”
Latinos began to participate in the program.
Over the years, however, barriers still prevented many Latinos from fully engaging in Pura Vida, including a language barrier and a lack of access to childcare.
In 2014, Healthfinders decided it was time to revitalize the program.
“The idea was to make these classes fun and engaging,” Mandile said. “We knew for them to be successful, we had to find the right person to take on this type of challenge.”
Overcoming obstacles to health
HealthFinders hired certified personal trainer Juliana Lima as program lead for Pura Vida.
Lima was excited about the opportunity to improve physical health for Latinos in the community.
She had been hoping to create a fun, supportive group environment for participants to engage in cardiovascular and strength training classes to help with their overall health.
“A lot of people come to us looking to lose weight, so we give them the tools that are proven successful to do that,” Lima said. “We kind of teach them everything th
at they would need to know.”
Lima and the team thought about ways to engage people more in the classes.
First, they decided to make sure the classes were culturally competent.
That meant Spanish classes, to better enable participants to respond to the instructions their doctors were telling them about how to improve their diet and healthy weight.
“People were getting these instructions [from doctors] all in English so they would just tune them out,” Lima said. “We have our weekly classes in English and Spanish and we have all of our materials available in Spanish. We use stories that people can relate to and explain things in ways that make sense.
They also decided to offer childcare services to participants, and involve summer interns in spreading the word about the class schedules to the public.
“Whatever we can do to encourage people to come out, try the programs, and be healthier, we are willing to try it,” Mandile said. “We try to listen to what the community wants and apply that to the program.”
Lima, Mandile and the HealthFinders team implemented the revitalized classes, many in dual languages and accompanied by childcare service, in 2015.
They now offer free nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction classes.
“Juliana has been tremendous for us,” Mandile said. “She really understood the vision of what we wanted to achieve and has really made a connection with the community.”
Latino physical health programming
Classes for Pura Vida are taught across the communities they serve.
Lima leads the programming and has recruited a corps of community members, including student interns and partner organizations, to teach many of the classes.
“It’s been an example of having the students then going on to teach the classes,” Lima said. “We are able to do so much more with programs in the summer when we have the interns.”
Classes are free to people of all ages, and many are bilingual in English and Spanish.
“We make the classes open to everybody, not just the Latino community,” Lima said. “Low-income families from all over the community have been able to come and see what we have to offer.”
Funded by HealthFinders, Pura Vida’s classes are also mainly taught by volunteers.
“We are committed to the community,” Lima said. “This is important. Everyone should have the chance to be healthy and lead good lives.”
Explore More:Healthcare Access, Healthy Families & Schools
By The Numbers
of Latinos remain without health insurance coverage
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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