SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE: Nurse Naelia Joa tends to donor Don Groft at the Rhode Island Blood Center. Seventy-eight of the center’s 365 staff members, or 21.4 percent, are Latino.
PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL PERSSON
By Patricia Daddona PBN Staff Writer
Fluency in Spanish is in demand in Rhode Island’s health care sector, though training and additional pay are limited, even among some of the state’s top employers in the industry.
Anna Cano Morales, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, cited data from the Economic Progress Institute showing that of the 138,500 Latinos in Rhode Island, 65 percent participate in the Rhode Island workforce.
“Given the fast-paced growth of Latinos in Rhode Island, mirroring the nation, the need for workers to be bilingual and multicultural is stark, not just in the field of health care, but in the fields of education and business technology,” she said.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island expects to hire more Spanish-speaking workers in coming years, and is starting to put professional-development pieces like additional training into place for employees.
“Here, the demand is substantial and growing, and that’s when you have to start building capacity,” said Bobby Rodriguez, vice president and chief diversity officer for Blue Cross. “In the future, we’re going to start Spanish classes as professional development for employees. I have a lot of requests for employees who want to learn Spanish. They would like to greet and connect with members.”
Rodriguez has been at Blue Cross for close to two years. He has worked in comparable positions in the larger Bay State health care system from 2008 to 2012, after working for Blue Cross of Florida from 2006 to 2008.
Rodriguez commissioned a study for Blue Cross from San Francisco-based Added Value Cheskin, a marketing-analysis firm, which delivered a report in early 2013 on demographics. Rodriguez said he found that people of color will be almost 28 percent of Rhode Island’s population by 2020, while Hispanics, who make up 14 percent of the population today, are projected to reach 16 percent by 2020, he said.
In other states, like New Mexico, Arizona and California, more than 50 percent of the babies born today are Hispanic, he said.