When cardiac arrest strikes, every second counts when it comes to preventing death. However, the distrust of the police among people of color — a topic that’s recently gained national attention thanks to widespread protests over police killings of unarmed black men — may compel them to forego emergency care in these life-threatening situations, a new study shows.
During interviews with residents of low-income Latino communities in Denver, researchers found that many didn’t call 911 in cases of cardiac arrest because of their suspicion of law enforcement, the possibility of language barriers with first responders, and misconceptions about the costs of ambulatory care.
“Residents of low-income, minority neighborhoods have two strikes against them: The incidence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is much higher than average and rates of bystander CPR are below average,” study lead author Dr. Comilla Sasson, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in a journal press release.
These new findings come on the heels of previous research that provides a glimpse in the difficulties that Latinos, regardless of their immigration status, experience in their interaction with authorities. According to a 2013 study conducted by national group Policy Link, more than 40 percent of Latinos said they felt isolated from police officers sworn to protect and serve.
Nearly 44 percent of Latinos in the Policy Link study said they are less likely to report crimes out of fear that police would ask them or their loved ones about their immigration status. Seven out of 10 undocumented immigrants surveyed also said that they wouldn’t contact law enforcement if they were victims of a crime.
The issue has been exacerbated in the years since local police departments have become more involved in federal immigration matters. Latino distrust in in American institutions — also confirmed by a depletion of funds for health care centers that provide care to undocumented people and negative experiences with health care providers — has complicated efforts to bridge racial gaps in health care, especially in the weeks before and during the Obamacare enrollment period.
“A lot of Latino people don’t come because they’re afraid,” Ruben Acosta, a Mexican immigrant living in Los Angeles, told Yahoo News in March shortly after he and his wife took a leap of faith and applied for health insurance. Despite the White House’s assurances that information collected during enrollment would not be transferred to immigration officials, Acosta said he remained skeptical of the outreach to Latinos. “Obama promised that [applicants’ immigration status] information won’t be shared, but he also promised he’d pass immigration reform [long ago.]”
Less than half of Latinos in the U.S. knew about their state’s health exchange, compared to 68 percent of blacks and 69 percent of whites, according to a survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund before the current enrollment period began. In February, The National Alliance for Hispanic Health, an organization that at one point reported fielding 4,000 Obamacare-related phone calls, told CNN that counselors often encountered mixed-status families — groups that had at least one undocumented immigrant.
Health officials say that people of color stand to benefit the most from adequate emergency, preventative, and specialized care, which count among some of Obamacare’s offerings. In the long run, access to these amenities could help underserved populations tackle other ailments like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Sasson said part of fulfilling that goal requires better addressing Latinos’ distrust of law enforcement.
“We need to do a better job of overcoming the significant barriers to timely medical care for Latinos suffering cardiac arrest,” Sasson said. “Culturally sensitive public education about cardiac arrest and CPR is a key first step. Future research will [also] need to be conducted to better understand how targeted, culturally sensitive public education campaigns may improve the provision of bystander CPR and cardiac arrest survival rates in high-risk neighborhoods.”
Distrust of the police doesn’t only hamper Latinos’ efforts to receive emergency care. Black women abused by their significant others also weigh the consequences of reporting instances of violence out of fear about how the police will treat their spouse. Building trust among this demographic also proves difficult since the staff at battered women’s shelters don’t reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.