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COVID-19 Makes End-of-Life Decisions Urgent for Hispanic Communities

End-of-life planning includes a person's wishes regarding medical treatment made to ensure those wishes are carried out should the person be unable to communicate them to a doctor.(JoshuaWoroniecki/Pixabay)
End-of-life planning includes a person's wishes regarding medical treatment made to ensure those wishes are carried out should the person be unable to communicate them to a doctor.(JoshuaWoroniecki/Pixabay)
June 16, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Many of us fail to make known our end-of-life choices before a health crisis occurs, and with COVID-19 upon us, those decisions may be more important than ever. Now a nonprofit has stepped up to help Hispanics navigate their options.

The bilingual campaign initiated by the group Compassion & Choices is encouraging end-of-life conversations. Maria Otero is the group's national constituency manager and said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the disparities in health outcomes experienced in communities of color.

"We are essential workers," Otero said. "We have many, many workers in the restaurant industry or are farm workers, and just because of that we are exposed to the virus."

Compassion & Choices has assembled a free, bilingual COVID-19 toolkit, which is available online at CompassionandChoices.org.

Latinos make up 25% of those who have died from COVID-19, even though they're only 18% of the population. Patricia A. González-Portillo, national Latino communications and constituency director with Compassion & Choices, said where you live, availability of health care and lifestyle are all factors in the severity of illness in Hispanic communities.

"We can catch this horrible virus that can kill us. Are we going to wait 'til that happens before we have the conversation with our family about what I want in case I die from this illness?" said González-Portillo.

Because Hispanics are less likely than whites to have health insurance, Otero said many folks are either unable or unwilling to seek treatment. She added cultural differences also can play a part.

"There's not a word in Spanish about advance directives. We don't have a word for 'hospice,'" she said, "So, often we are perceived like we are not very assertive to what we want at the end of life."

American groups are working with the Mexican consulate's Ventanillas De Salud, or Windows of Health, program to help Latino and Hispanic families navigate end-of-life conversations.

Disclosure: Compassion & Choices contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Health Issues, Senior Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM