Library spreads the health
Special for The Arizona Republic
Jul. 23, 2005

Grants used to get medical news to Hispanics

Alison Stanton

Imagine having a serious health condition but being unable to learn anything about it because the only information you can find is in another language.

Frieda Ling, health librarian at the Glendale Public Library, realized this is the case for a large number of Hispanic residents who call the West Valley home.

"Many Hispanics do not speak English or enough English to take advantage of the resources we have in the library and no other means of accessing health information," Ling said.

In response, Ling developed Operation Health Outreach, a yearlong series of bilingual programs aimed at getting health information to Hispanics.

"There is an above-national-average percentage of Hispanic people in Glendale," she said. "The national average is 21 percent, and in downtown Glendale it is 63 percent."

Late last year, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine awarded $25,000 to the Glendale Public Library to fund the project, which is sponsored by NAMI West Valley, Psi Omega Pi, the University of Phoenix Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota, which is the international honor society for counselors, Central Arizona REFORMA, which is a division of American Library Association, and Glendale Community Center.

"I have wanted to do this for the longest time," Ling said. "When I learned about the grant and learned how to write grants, I jumped at the opportunity."

The program, which began in January, offers free health seminars conducted in Spanish at the Glendale Public Library, 5959 W. Brown St.; the Velma Teague Branch, 7010 N. 58th Ave.; and the Glendale Community Center, 5401 W. Ocotillo Road. In addition, the project includes funds for developing a collection of health books and other media in Spanish.

Ling, of Glendale, said programs like Operation Health Outreach are increasingly necessary in areas with large Hispanic populations.

"The goal of the project is to increase public awareness of critical health issues and to educate the public on available resources," she said, adding that the seminars have already covered topics like osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease.

"We want as many people as are able to come to hear these important presentations. We attempt to take the programs to the people rather than waiting for them to come to us."

Because so much health-related information is available on the Internet, Operation Health Outreach includes classes that teach basic computer skills.

"Some people learn best by listening to expert presentations, others like to read books, and still others love to consult the Internet," Ling said, adding that instructors will help attendees distinguish between a valid health site and one that is filled with urban legends.

"We teach people to choose reliable sources of information from the Internet, not just anything that's there. We also identify resources available in Spanish, which is limited but getting better."

Ling, who recently received a $32,000 grant from the Library Services and Technology Act to continue the program for an additional six months, as well as expand it into the Asian community, said she is thrilled by the way the program is going so far.

Ling said attendance is good and the audience members are giving positive feedback. Best of all, she said, many told her how much they have learned from the bilingual lectures.

"I love to see the target audience enthused and reap the benefit from our work," she said.

Richard Herbig, a clinician and professor of psychology at Northern Arizona University, Western International University and Paradise Valley Community College, conducted a workshop on depression last month. By using a translator, he was able to teach, answer questions and give handouts to the audience.

"I was struck by two things," the Phoenix resident said. "One was the attendance; we got quite a sizable turnout. Secondly, they were very involved in the content, and most came with important agendas of their own, which I could tell through their questions and their attentiveness."

Based on the enthusiastic reaction to his workshop, Herbig said, there is obviously a true need for bilingual health programs.

"Clearly, from some who shared their plight, there's clearly a need for this knowledge," he said. "Right from the beginning there was a certain amount of interaction."

Candido Abeyta, 70, said he has enjoyed attending the Operation Health Outreach programs.

"They have been wonderful," the Glendale resident said.

Abeyta said he thinks offering the seminars in Spanish is especially useful for elderly Hispanics who have not had the chance to learn much English.