Long Beach’s Health Education Center Serves a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Community

The City of Long Beach won an Award of Excellence in the Community Services and Economic Development category of the 2006 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

Expanded health education and promotion services, especially those aimed at low-income and underserved populations, are greatly needed in Long Beach. The city faces many challenges, including a large number of limited English-speaking residents and a growing number of families in need of services. Economic, social, cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing health care services and information are recognized as contributors to the dramatic disparities in health status and long-term well-being among segments of the population.

Long Beach is the most ethnically diverse large city in the United States, according to Diversity Index USA Today and census data. The population is 36 percent Latino, 33 percent Caucasian, 15 percent African American, 13 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 3 percent other. More than 40 percent of Long Beach residents speak a language other than English at home, with nearly one-third reporting they speak English “not well” or “not at all.”

Through community dialogues, the people of Long Beach have identified the need for families to receive linguistically and culturally appropriate health education and information. In addition, increased cross-cultural meetings and health forums, wider information sharing, breaks in the language barriers and better information networking are necessary to create good health for all communities. This was echoed by Long Beach health providers, who stated that health education and prevention services, information centers to facilitate access to care, and linguistically appropriate and culturally sensitive programming would help to address residents’ health care needs.

Committed to building systems that promote health care access, wellness and effective communication across cultural and linguistic barriers in order to diminish health disparities, the City of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) created the Miller Family Health Education Center.

A Community Asset

In 1998, the DHHS approached Kaiser Permanente regarding a vacant former clinic in the city. The old facility was too small for Kaiser programming; however, representatives recognized the community need for a health education facility and agreed to donate the building to the city for such a use. The development of the facility required extensive renovation, which was made possible through grants from the Miller Foundation, the California Endowment, the Boeing Company and the Center for Natural Lands Management. The result was the Miller Family Health Education Center (MFHEC).

The mission of the center is to provide a vital learning environment dedicated to promoting a healthy community through health education, leadership development and collaboration with Long Beach’s diverse population.

The center is a unique facility, providing a much-needed venue for health education and human services programming in the Long Beach area. Programs at the center place a special emphasis on reducing health disparities through: 

  • Culturally and linguistically appropriate services;
  • Professional training and capacity building to enhance providers’ ability to meet the needs of vulnerable populations; and
  • Community-based and community-driven programming. 

The facility contains office space along with many of the Health Department’s health education and outreach programs, a health resource library with wireless computer lab, a multipurpose/child care area and a state-of-the-art meeting and training center called the Multicultural Pavilion. With seating for more than 100 people, the pavilion contains multimedia technology and built-in language interpretation equipment with wireless headsets. It can also be divided into two large classrooms. The technology provides health educators, other service providers, public sector departments, community groups and coalitions with interpretation capability for up to three languages simultaneously, enabling effective communication with and between residents with limited English proficiency. It also creates an ideal environment for training professionals to better meet the needs of the community.

Center Benefits Community

Since its grand opening in March 2004, the MFHEC has been used heavily, enabling the Health Department to enhance its services, host external programs that benefit the community and better reach those most in need.

In 2006, 550 meetings and trainings took place at the MFHEC, with more than 10,300 community and professional participants. Some of the programs include: 

  • A new monthly community health education forum series held in a multilingual format;
  • A community health worker training program for residents with limited English-speaking skills;
  • Local and regional health and social services collaborative meetings addressing access to health insurance, homelessness, and youth and gang violence prevention;
  • Trainings and capacity-building programs for health, social services and other professionals, including cultural competency trainings, HIV prevention workshops, emergency preparedness and technology trainings; and
  • Meetings and events of other city departments and community groups such as Police Department trainings and school district meetings. 

The Miller Family Health Education Center has fostered better coordination of services among a variety of public, private and community sectors, and has provided the DHHS and its community partners with the ability to implement new and innovative programs.

Contact: Ronald R. Arias, director, Health and Human Services, City of Long Beach; phone: (562) 570-4016; e-mail: Ron_Arias@longbeach.gov.

This article appears in the April 2007 issue of Western City
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