Dame tu Mano (Give me your hand) is Elkhart (Ind.) General Hospital’s effort to coordinate health outreach to the county’s Latino residents.

Latinos – mostly of Mexican descent – account for nearly 30,000 of Elkhart County’s 200,000 residents. They are leading a population boom in the county, attracted by a steady growth of jobs in the manufacturing sector, according to Patty Gremaux, Elkhart General Hospital’s director of community outreach.

Serving a largely medically underserved and mostly low-income Latino population posed a serious challenge for the hospital, Gremaux said. Many Latinos new to the area dealt with issues like an inability to communicate with health care providers; stress or depression; a lack of or inadequate health insurance coverage; negative family dynamics; fear of deportation and a lack of access to primary care services. 

“We had to be more proactive in meeting the Latino community where they are,” Gremaux said.  In 2007, the hospital partnered with community based groups to launch Dame tu Mano as an initiative encompassing all of its outreach for improving Latinos health under one umbrella.

“We’ll help you to help yourself,” is how Gremaux described the effort.  

For starters, the hospital compiled a free comprehensive community health resource directory in Spanish that identified community organizations that can help. It has distributed more than 4,000 of the guides to Latino businesses and at hospital-sponsored health screenings and events within the Latino community. It also is included in hospital admission packets for Latino patients and in the hospital’s foyers.

The hospital set up a help line in Spanish for people to receive health information and materials, referrals to community resources and information on upcoming events. The help line has generated more than 50,000 calls – from 200 to 800 calls per month – and is promoted on daily radio spots and in all of the hospital’s media communications.

Speaking of radio, Spanish-language programming helps the hospital carry its message to the Latino community. Dame tu Mano runs a 10-minute “Health Tip of the Day” program five days a week on a local AM radio station (La Mejor) that reaches about 30,000 listeners, and a weekly health program on a local FM radio station (Sabor Latino) that reaches about 10,000 listeners.

“Radio is king,” says Gremaux. “The music helps the population stay rooted to its culture.”

Dame tu Mano also runs a column on health care issues twice a month in El Puente, a Spanish-language tabloid newspaper that has about 9,000 readers in the northern Indiana area. And the hospital uses social media – Facebook and Twitter – to connect with Latinos. In August, it began posting video blogs or “Vlogging,” which Gremaux says is popular with teens.

Dame tu Mano is built on familiarity and trust between the Latino community and the hospital, Gremaux says. “The hospital has a face and voice within Latino communities,” she says.

“This is our community,” she adds. “As a hospital, we are called to serve our community.”

At a time when the AHA is calling on hospital leaders to redouble their efforts to eliminate disparities in health care, Gremaux encourages hospitals to “be altruistic … be genuine … be accountable to the community. Integrity is everything.”