UVA volunteers serve Charlottesville’s Latino community through the Latino Health Initiative (LHI), or Iniciativa de Salud Latina de UVA.

The U.S. has an estimated 58.9 million native Spanish speakers. These individuals, the majority of whom are emigrants of Latin America, experience higher rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and other significant health issues that are further complicated by limited access to comprehensive health care services. Long before serious conditions lead them to seek emergency treatment, a committed corps of UVA volunteers—all local heroes—reach out to keep the Latino community healthy and minimize their risk of health crises.

Latino Health Initiative is improving health prospects for Latinos and providing greater cultural competency among medical providers

Spanish-speaking faculty and students from the UVA Schools of Medicine and Nursing launched the Latino Health Initiative (LHI) to bridge the gap between health care providers and our Latino neighbors here in Charlottesville. “Our community has a large proportion of folks who don’t have access to care or receive regular care,” explains third-year medical student Daniel Giraldo Herrera. Working with many committed and generous community partners, volunteers like Daniel provide a range of preventative and wellness education programs and services in addition to conducting research aimed at improving the health of the Latino community.

Dr. Max Luna leaders the Latino Health Initiative
Dr. Max Luna, Director – UVA Latino Health Initiative

LHI is led by Dr. Max Luna, UVA Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, whose work with the Latino Health Initiative earned him the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award and the honor of the Distinguished Citizen of Charlottesville. “LHI is a vehicle to narrow the health disparity gap of Latinos while enhancing cultural humility for students and faculty of UVA,” he explains. “A deep understanding of the challenges of everyday Latinos is needed to inform us on how we can engage them in community health efforts. We can’t come to the community with a pre-established agenda and strategy.” Instead, LHI serves by listening and learning.

Fourth-year medical student Tessa Klumpp first became involved three years ago. Her preventive-focused background in nutrition and exercise science led her to an interest in cardiovascular health. She says that this is “particularly because it is a problem that people often don’t know about until they are in its later stages. However, with early recognition, disease progression can be slowed.” Tessa, Daniel, and classmate Carlos Cevallos have been committed to LHI since their earliest days in medical school.

Latino Health Initiative volunteers working shifts staffed a recent Multicultural Health Celebration.
UVA student volunteers worked shifts during a recent Multicultural Health Celebration.

The learning goes two ways

In turn, the community health workers offer insights and advice to the medical students and faculty about how to communicate effectively with the Latino community. For example, as Daniel explains, “the most valuable aspect of serving the community via LHI, for me, is developing compassion and empathy by immersing in the American Latino culture, understanding their unique challenges, and developing ways to address them.”

Dr. Luna and the medical student leaders invite the community to share any expertise they may have. Tessa Klumpp shares that LHI tries to offer “many educational opportunities for the community we serve, and their desire for learning goes beyond healthcare.”

A commitment beyond hospital walls

La Iniciativa del Corazón (Cardiovascular Initiative) for the Latino community in Charlottesville is one of LHI’s most important activities. Above all, as Dr. Luna explains, it offers “a huge opportunity to prevent human suffering as cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of morbidity and mortality of Latinos.”

Tessa, Daniel, and Carlos organize bi-weekly Sunday hours at the Iglesia de Encarnacion (Church of the Incarnation) where individuals can have their blood pressure and other vitals checked. The volunteers screen for health risks, provide information and insights, and, when necessary, make referrals to clinics and specialists. Afterward, follow-up calls are useful for gathering feedback and tracking progress. Tessa describes “how eager the community is for knowledge about their health and ways to improve it.”

Since its inception, over 470 community members have taken advantage of the Cardiovascular Initiative’s services

LHI also incorporates important training components into its programs. The curriculum for Compañeros Training & Empowerment promotes healthcare literacy in community health workers. Attendees learn about advocacy and connecting to services as well as topics that include mental health, acute heart conditions, strokes, and medical emergency response.

The importance of their work with the community was exercised when one of its members experienced unusual back pain, which an EKG confirmed as a first symptom of a heart attack.

More Latino Health Initiative partnerships and projects are underway or in the planning stages

La Clínica Latina, in partnership with the Charlottesville Free Clinic, provides twice-a-month comprehensive primary care clinic to Spanish-speakers. This service is particularly valuable for individuals and families without affordable health care coverage. Spanish-speaking primary care clinicians conduct entire visits in Spanish and are supported by other Spanish-fluent care coordinators.

Tardes de Salud Familiar en Southwood, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, serves 1,500 Southwood community residents; approximately half of whom are Latino. Monthly, medical providers conduct blood pressure evaluations and more detailed cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus risk assessments.

UVA Latinx Graduate Student Alliance and Xochilt Diaz, the anchor of the Sunday afternoon FM 94.7 radio program En vivo con la Conejita, host leading professionals and Latino opinion leaders who discuss health and non health-related topics.

LHI also works with the Latino Medical Student Association and the UVA Student National Medical Association in Albemarle County Public Schools to promote academic achievement of children from underserved communities and foster interethnic empathy and unity.

In addition to these programs, Dr. Luna is engaged in discussions with UVA’s Life Support Learning Center regarding providing first response training in Spanish.

Health materials from the Latino Health Initiative

Many partners support the Latino Health Initiative, such as:

  • Latino Medical Student Association, UVA
  • Latinx Graduate Student Alliance, UVA
  • Latins Student Alliance, UVA
  • Latino Community Health Workers Network
  • Thomas Jefferson Health District
  • Sin Barreras
  • Creciendo Juntos
  • The Women’s Initiative
  • The Charlottesville Free Clinic
  • Albemarle Public Schools
  • Church of the Incarnation
  • Southwood Community/Habitat for Humanity

Support the Latino Health Initiative

Connect with LHI on Facebook.

Community involvement is key to LHI’s success. To support LHI, contact:
Max A. Luna, MD
Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine
Director, Latino Health Initiative
University of Virginia

To connect with La Clínica Latina at Charlottesville Free Clinic, call: 434-296-5525.