“Koreatown” by frankieleon via Creative Commons

Koreatown, Little Italy, Tehrangeles, Spanish Harlem –wherever they’ve gone, immigrants to the United States have tended to live in places where they’re surrounded by their fellow countrymen.

The upside to this phenomenon is that ethnic neighborhoods can smooth the often stressful transition to living in a new country.

A downside, however, is that there might be less of an incentive for non-English speaking immigrants to learn English.

If English proficiency is not sufficient, navigating tricky terrain like medical treatment and healthcare access can become difficult to the point of impossible for immigrants, particularly as they age.

That’s the foundation of social work associate professor Yuri Jang’s new investigation, “Limited English Proficiency, Health, and Healthcare among Older Immigrants,” which has received funding from the National Institutes of Health.

“Limited English proficiency is already known as a barrier to healthcare access. So I’m trying to figure out what kind of mechanism is working between them,” Jang says. “I’m looking at interpersonal resources, meaning one’s social network and one’s environment, as potential intervening factors.”

Yuri Jang, PhD
Yuri Jang, PhD

Jang’s study focuses on how Korean immigrants to the United States handle healthcare-related matters depending on the social and environmental contexts they live in.

Do aging Korean immigrants in midtown Manhattan’s Koreatown go about things in the same way that they would in Florida, where the population density of Koreans is relatively low?

What about somewhere like Austin, where the population density of Korean immigrants is neither particularly high nor low?

To answer these questions, Jang and her team will use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to build maps of the healthcare resources available to Korean immigrants with low English proficiency in New York, Texas, and Florida.

They’ll also use a technique called Social Network Analysis to map the social networks and overall social connectedness of the participants, in order to deduce the role that interpersonal connectivity plays in the healthcare access equation.

“Think of the Social Network Analysis as a tool for mapping human resources and the GIS analysis for mapping places,” Jang explains.

As to the implications of the study, Jang says that is paramount to delineate the specific mechanisms connecting lower English proficiency to poor healthcare access in immigrant populations before trying to develop an intervention to make things better.

According to the 2010 census, more than 18 percent of the United States population (47 million Americans) do not speak English as their primary language and have linguistic barriers

But given the diversity in the immigrant population, you have to go one group at a time, says Jang.

“Otherwise, I would have too general information and lack necessary, in-depth information that is relevant for each and every specific group. With this project I’m trying to have the quality rather than the breadth of the information.”

Posted April 18, 2016. By Martin do Nascimento.