Meeting Seniors Where They Are: Promoting Health Literacy Using Native Languages

Help Spread the Word!: 

Health Focus: Diabetes Care

Description: Diabetes is a serious public health epidemic that impacts 25.8 million people, or approximately 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. Health Services Advisory Group (HSAG), a Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organization (QIN-QIO), is committed to improving health care outcomes and helping vulnerable populations in Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, and the U.S. Virgin Islands effectively manage their diabetes and live healthier lives. As part of this ongoing mission, HSAG is hosting Everyone with Diabetes Counts” (EDC) workshops for senior groups in their communities and in their native languages using translators.

EDC is a health disparity reduction program run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that seeks to increase health literacy and quality of care for people with diabetes or prediabetes, including Medicare beneficiaries. To access often hard-to-reach populations, HSAG has offered EDC workshops in Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, and Gujarati, and, most recently, added Swahili, a Southeast-African language spoken by thousands of African-Americans in the United States.

Supported by the Mosaic Senior Center in Phoenix and run by the Area Agency on Aging, the Swahili-language EDC training was led by an instructor and interpreter team that used simple, easy-to-understand terms to highlight the importance of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and diabetes monitoring and management. Throughout the workshop, participants were eager and excited to share about the foods they commonly eat and discuss their weight-loss challenges. In addition, family members of participants learned about how to provide better support for their loved ones. At the end of the workshop, participants acknowledged that their biggest takeaway was a better understanding of how self-managing their day-to-day diet and exercise can help control their diabetes and have a positive impact on their health.

This type of in-depth group conversation would have been impossible at participants’ regular medical appointments due to language barriers. The success of these native-language EDC workshops has emboldened HSAG to continue its outreach to other vulnerable populations with culturally competent health literacy workshops.

Results: HSAG was able to reach 30 African-American seniors who spoke little English and had limited education about health issues. Of the 30 participants, 22 were eligible CMS participants. HSAG plans to continue to develop language-specific EDC workshops but has acknowledged that future sessions should have fewer participants (to better engage all), have a diabetes peer educator” trained interpreter, and provide handouts for participants in their native language.

Visit HSAG’s YouTube Channel to watch the Overcoming Language Barriers in Diabetes Self-Management Education video.