Baptist Health Opens New Clinic to Serve Spanish-Speaking Community

La Clínica del Pueblo has hired a bilingual staff to eliminate the language barrier for patients.

health care workers in scrubs posing for a picture by the clinic sign
Photo courtesy of Baptist Health.

Wilson Cruz knew he wanted to be a doctor at the age of 15 so he started taking first aid classes. He eventually attended medical school in Columbia before moving to the United States about 20 years ago. Today he is a doctor at Baptist Health La Clínica del Pueblo in Fort Smith, which has a completely bilingual staff. The goal of the new primary care clinic is to help eliminate language barriers for Spanish-speaking residents.

“Seeing that difficulty, that people are not able to speak English here, I was really happy to help,” Cruz said. 

The language barrier can make it difficult for patients to communicate their health concerns to a doctor and this challenge can deter them from seeking medical attention. When the clinic opened Sept. 1, Dr. Cruz met a “really sick” woman who’d been living in the U.S. for more than 20 years, but had never seen a doctor until now.

“That is when you can see how much needed was the clinic, for somebody to speak Spanish,” he said.

While the staff is bilingual, the clinic is open to everyone and provides a variety of services including management of acute and chronic illnesses, adult wellness exams and treatment for lacerations.

Cruz credits regional practice administrator Cindy Pratt with helping create the new clinic. Months ago, a clinic nurse mentioned how challenging it is for Hispanic residents to obtain primary care services from someone who speaks Spanish. To address the issue, Pratt worked with Baptist Health officials to develop a plan and identify staff members to make La Clínica del Pueblo a reality.

“Eliminating that language barrier allows a better connection and understanding between the patient and the provider, and hopefully improves their health overall,” Pratt said.

Preventative care is key for improving overall health, so it’s important to teach patients they should check in with their doctor regularly, not just when they’re sick.

“We see a significant need for preventative services,” region president Kim Miller said. “We want our patients to understand the importance of annual wellness visits, age-appropriate screenings and basic medication management to prevent chronic illness.”

Baptist Health has used translation tablets to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients, but the devices have their limitations. For example, they may not be helpful when patients use slang words which can vary from country to country, Cruz said. Spanish-speaking staff members are more beneficial in these circumstances because they can ask patients to clarify what they mean in order to ensure their symptoms and health concerns are being expressed accurately.

Native Spanish speakers don’t always have time to learn English because they are busy taking care of their family, working and just trying to survive, Cruz said. It’s important to have Spanish-speaking health care workers who can communicate with this population and Cruz is looking forward to providing this much-needed service to the community.

“We are able to communicate, and able to help the community and help the people who cannot speak English,” he said. “I am pretty happy helping. We come here to help.”

The Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce is hosting a ribbon cutting today for Baptist Health La Clínica del Pueblo, which is now accepting new patients. The clinic, which is located at 4700 Kelley Highway, Suite B. in Fort Smith, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Same-day appointments are available and walk-ins are welcome. 

For more information or to make an appointment, call 479-573-7995 or visit www.baptist-health.com.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.