Barriers Latino Patients Face in the Pediatric Emergency Department

Kaleigh Mary Connors


Pediatr Nurs. 2019;45(1):37-41. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


As a result of continued poverty and political corruption in Central America, there has been a recent uptick in teenagers fleeing to the United States with the hope of finding stability and a respite from gang violence (Rosenblum & Ball, 2016). Upon arrival to the United States, those children and adolescents face extreme public health risks due to unsanitary living conditions, hazardous work environments, and lack of adult supervision (Rosenblum & Ball, 2016).

One particularly cold and snowy day in a large, urban pediatric emergency department, I took care of a 14-year-old boy named Eduardo who had recently moved to the United States from El Salvador. He had been shoveling and was not provided with gloves or a lunch break during his 10-hour workday. Eduardo required surgery due to the degree of tissue injury from frostbite. He had come to the United States alone and unaccompanied, so there was no guardian I could contact on his behalf. While the team discussed care options and consulted surgery, Eduardo began telling me in Spanish that he was staying in a run-down apartment with other teenagers and that he missed his family. He was undocumented, uninsured, and essentially alone in a new country with limited knowledge of the resources available to him.

Eduardo's case demonstrates several barriers that Latino youth face when seeking safe and competent health care in the United States. However, his case is not isolated. Eduardo is just one of thousands of Latino youth who cross into the United States via Mexico, and this number is increasing. In a study conducted by Ciaccia and John (2016), nearly 50,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras came to the United States via Mexico in 2014. This is a stark increase from 2011, when the number was reported as 3,933 (Ciaccia & John, 2016).

Latino origin is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau (2018) as ethnicity associated with culture and distinct from race. The U.S. Census Bureau (2018) further defines Latino origin as "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race." Although 69% of Latinos age 18 years and under living in the United States are of Mexican descent, there is great diversity throughout Latino culture in relation to traditions, values, religion, and practices (Patten, 2016). The increasing number of Latino youth indicates a change in the United States. As a new generation of leaders, thinkers, and doers continues to grow, their health, well-being, and how they access care need to be more of a priority than it is presently being enacted. Healthcare providers should strive to better serve this population by promoting an environment of trust and understanding within the healthcare setting.