Wyckoff forum urges Latinos to seek medical aid

By Dustin Brown

City Councilwoman Diana Reyna's (D-Brooklyn) father has a wife, four daughters and two granddaughters to nag him about seeing the doctor. But he still rarely goes.

“It's like trying to convince a dead wall,” Reyna said of her father, a taxi driver who emigrated from the Dominican Republic. “You've got to be sure that car is in mint condition before he is.”

Speaking Friday at the 3rd Annual Latino Health Symposium at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Reyna offered her exasperation with her own dad as an example of why many medical problems occur with disproportionate frequency among Hispanics.

Too often people do not seek medical attention until they become very sick, by which point a once-treatable ailment has turned into a serious health problem.

The national statistics are stark. Diabetes is nearly twice as common in Hispanics than in non-Hispanic whites and HIV infections occur four times as often, while Latino communities generally endure “an unusually high asthma rate,” Reyna said.

“There is no reason that Latinos should suffer from this disease more than any other community,” Reyna said of diabetes, which can be prevented and controlled through simple steps like quitting smoking, exercising and improving one's diet.

The key is prevention, and the hospital organized the annual forum to educate people about medical ailments and ways they can avoid them. The neighborhoods surrounding Wyckoff, which sits in Bushwick one block from the Ridgewood border, are more than 60 percent Hispanic.

“This hospital is evolving beyond its walls into a hospital without walls,” said J. Emilio Carrillo, the medical director of the New York Presbyterian Community Health Plan. “This hospital is going out of its walls to work on prevention. This hospital isn't just a hospital that waits for people to get sick and take care of them.”

Last month the hospital struck a deal with state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer pledging to revamp its translation services to better accommodate a growing body of non-English-speaking patients, who are primarily Hispanic.

“In order to provide health care in predominantly Latino neighborhoods … providers must be able to connect with their patients in the language that they feel most comfortable with,” said Marty Markowitz, the borough president of Brooklyn and the event's keynote speaker.

But the symposium, which featured four hours of lectures about such issues as lung cancer, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension, drew a sparse crowd of only about 40 people. While praising the hospital for holding the forum, Reyna told the community to play its role by taking advantage of the available medical resources.

“This room should be filled. We should try to help Wyckoff Heights. Bring a friend when they have these symposiums,” Reyna said. “While this effort must be commended, it is only the beginning of what must be done.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

More from Around New York