Letter: Where were the fact checkers?

To the Editor,

Unfortunately, a nearby newspaper continues their campaign to apparently incite rather than inform the public with their online series of forums on “Systemic Racism in Tulare County.” As the host, they do have the responsibility to offer correct facts in follow-up news reporting, or editorials, if misstatements are made by their panelists.

Their latest forum focused on racism in health care and their panel consisted of two hospital doctors and one board member from Kaweah Health plus three local citizens. Visalia-based Family HealthCare Network was not invited although they have 39 clinics, most are in Tulare County. They served over 266,000 patients in 2018 according to the California Health Care Almanac. Over 73% of their patients fall below the federal poverty line. Kaweah Health has nine primary care clinic locations.

At its core, I believe this forum effectively declared it is “systemic racism” if doctors and nurses and clerks do not speak Spanish.

Two panel members described their childhood experiences of being forced to act as interpreters for their parents. The facts? Today, neither Kaweah Health nor the Family HealthCare Network allow minors/children to interpret for family members. Dr. Winston did note that fact, but within 10 minutes a panel member persisted and stated “… so many times, and so often, my students get pulled out of school… to translate for their families.” How odd?

Another lengthy topic was a lack of competent interpreters at the clinics. This included a discussion of the nuances and usage of the Spanish language both within Mexico as well as the Central American countries. The facts? Again, Kaweah Health and the Family HealthCare Network both reply that they do have trained linguists available. Kaweah Health specifically noted they have a team of 16 trained interpreters for their clinics. They also use a contractor that supplies video conferencing between patient and doctor for 35 languages. Still another service covers 200 languages. Finally, they have over 350 tested and qualified bilingual staff members available both in the hospital and outside clinics.

Personally, if I were to immigrate to my grandfather’s native Finland, I would study their language and not expect their doctors to speak English. Unfortunately, this forum did not suggest non-English speaking immigrants should quickly learn how to understand and speak using their doctor’s native language.

Some panel members then went on to complain that they do not have a “primary care doctor” assigned to them at their clinic who would be familiar with their previous medical problems. The facts? Again, both Kaweah Health and the Family HealthCare Network replied that patients are assigned a primary care doctor at their clinics. Patients can then request the first available appointment with that assigned physician. If their need is more urgent, they will be directed to the first available doctor. This applies to all patients and is not a racial issue.

The forum then moved on to discuss the challenges faced by some to fully access the health care system. The facts? Again, the Family HealthCare Network CEO stated, “At FHCN we have an extensive staff of employed community health reps as well as volunteer promatoras. They do wonderful work with patients, as well as helping them navigate the health system and also connecting them to resources such as housing, food, insurance coverage, etc.” Kaweah Health offers a similar system.

The nearby newspaper who sponsored this forum on “Systemic Racism in Health Care” failed to provide the public with a follow-up search for the facts. Either they were lazy or deliberately remained silent to push a divisive racial agenda. Personally, I would like to thank the CEO of the Family HealthCare Network, and the Kaweah Health’s director of media relations, for their factual written responses in my search for the facts. I do not have any business or volunteer connection with either organization and did not research smaller clinics.

My advice to the newspaper sponsoring these ongoing racism forums? Don’t take on vast projects with half vast research.

Jerrold Jensen
Visalia

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