California Latinos’ Use of Emergency Medical Services Rose During Pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinos in California were relatively unlikely to use emergency medical services. But during the pandemic, across much of the state, Latinos’ use of such services — specifically seeking treatment for respiratory ailments — increased more than it did for non-Latino whites, according to a new report by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. The report’s authors compared figures for the first six months of 2020 to statistics for the same period in 2019. They analyzed data from the California Emergency Medical Services Information System, which includes information from all of the state’s 33 local emergency medical service agencies with the exception of Los Angeles County. “Although the study doesn’t directly account for about 30% of California’s Latinos who live in Los Angeles, other studies on the impact of COVID-19 on Latinos in L.A. would suggest that the same phenomenon would hold true in Los Angeles,” said Esmeralda Melgoza, a doctoral student at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and a co-author of the report. The study’s findings suggest that emergency medical services statewide have an opportunity to improve their language and cultural literacy to better serve the needs of their Latino patients. The study identified factors that kept Latinos from using emergency services prior to the pandemic, including concerns about the costs of emergency care and fears that interaction with public safety officials could endanger their immigration status. After the pandemic began, their use of emergency services for urgent respiratory illness pointed to the toll COVID-19 took on Latino essential workers and families. — Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas

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