By reaching out to its Latino population to educate workers and provide resources tailored to their specific benefits needs, Pitney Bowes significantly reduced health care disparities in its workplace.
The communication technology company works with its health plan vendor UnitedHealthcare to tailor its benefit and wellness communications to the language requirements and cultural realities of its changing workforce.
Currently, 15% of its staff is Latino, so Pitney Bowes introduced additional tools, like onsite Internet kiosks and integrated a Spanish-speaking call center, to engage this growing labor group.
Statistics show that Latinos are at greater risk for health and medical problems than the general population. Further, many Latinos are unfamiliar with the U.S. health care delivery system and insurance products. Health illiteracy is a significant barrier to making healthy decisions and participating as a smart health consumer. Thus, HR/benefits practitioners are in a unique position to spotlight health information and safety rules in the workplace to combat such disparities.
For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of diagnosed diabetes was 66% higher among Hispanics than for non-Hispanic white adults. Diabetes was the fifth-leading cause of death among Latinos, and moreover, three of the leading causes above it - cancer, heart disease and stroke - can be aggravated by diabetes. In addition, the third-leading cause of death among Hispanics is unintentional injuries - not seen in the general population.
Latino Health Solutions, a division of UnitedHealthcare, works with employers to inform and educate their Latino population about health benefits in a language they understand.
"Often, the employer offers a very rich benefit with resources tailored to meet the needs of their employees, but sometimes there's a disconnect with the Hispanic or Latino employee whose first language is Spanish. They may have a [great] benefit, but they don't know how to use it or access tools to be healthy and well," says Jaime Gonzalez, national director of business development for LHS.
'Put on your Hispanic glasses'
Gonzalez has worked with Pitney Bowes and other large employers to establish highly tailored communications and materials for their specific workforce.
When he first sat down with Pitney Bowes leaders, he asked them to "put on your Hispanic glasses. Look at the world and put context from the perspective of a Hispanic and how we view the world when it comes to our health," Gonzalez says. "Take that context and [create] relevant resources, tools and scenarios that make sense to us as Latinos if we're dealing with diabetes, heart disease, nutrition and exercise."
By recreating English materials in that context, LHS helps Pitney Bowes to relay their messaging to Spanish-speaking employees.
"I would encourage employers to look above and beyond just translating information into another language, because you do frequently misinterpret when you simply do a translation," says Mary Bradley, director of health care planning with Pitney Bowes.
Recreating English content in Spanish is more than using expressions that make sense to native speakers. Providing a cultural context is crucial to ensuring the material is relevant to that audience. For instance, LHS renamed an article entitled "Be prudent with moderate drinking" for English-speakers, to "Just one drink" in Spanish. Based on research, LHS finds prescriptive and directive writing with clear information can help improve behavior in the Latino population.
To identify the specific needs and perceptions of the Spanish-speaking workforce, Pitney Bowes conducts focus groups with UHC. Based on the groups' feedback, the company learned that Spanish-speaking health plan participants had difficulty finding Spanish-speaking providers. As a result, these members used their children to translate information sent home to them because materials were in English-only.
Many employees felt "speaking Spanish was almost a burden and that asking for information in Spanish was not acceptable," recalls Gonzalez.
In response, Bradley and her team at Pitney Bowes integrated a dedicated customer care service for Spanish-speaking employees to call and speak to professionals about health issues or benefits. In addition, Pitney Bowes hosts health and enrollment fairs with bilingual representatives, and enlisted health care professionals to talk to Latino populations about personal and family health, and the importance of an annual physical. The company also provides biometric screenings with clinical staff and physicians available to discuss results and action plans in a bilingual format.
To maintain regular touchpoints, Pitney Bowes installed kiosks at five worksites to educate employees with bilingual information on staying well, their benefits, using the health care system and finding a physician.
"It really brought a lot of Web information to the worksite in case employees didn't have access to the Web at home," says Bradley.
As a companion resource, UHC hosts a mobile website that contains a Spanish/English medical glossary. For many Latinos, the smartphone is their only connection to the Internet. They can use the portable glossary when visiting their doctor and are one click away from dialing customer care.
In additional to national initiatives, UHC works to prevent and control chronic illness at the local level by partnering with community YMCAs to conduct outreach to Latinos about diabetes and the importance of nutrition and exercise. Pitney Bowes similarly worked with UHC to find bilingual health coaches in communities where large groups of the company's Latino employees live. Bradley advises HR/benefits professionals to first engage their health plan and other vendors to find information on how to reach particular populations.
After forging those connections, both small and large employers also can contact local, community-based organizations that have workplace solutions for employers and tools in Spanish, such as the American Heart, American Cancer, and American Diabetes Associations. Hispanic chambers of business also can be resources to help disseminate information.
By the numbers
The number of Latinos counted during the 2010 census. This was about a 43% increase from the Latino population in the 2000 census, which was 35.3 million.
The projected Latino population of the U.S. on July 1, 2050. According to this projection, Latinos will constitute 30% of the nation's population by that date.
The number of states that have a population of 1 million or more Latino residents - Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
Source: United States Census Bureau.
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