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Hispanic Seniors: An Audience Worth Reaching

Posted by Elena del Valle on August 6, 2012

By Nhora Barrera, president, TMNcorp

Nhora Barrera, president and CEO, TMNcorp

Nhora Barrera, president and CEO, TMNcorp

Photo: TMNcorp

There’s no question that America’s population is getting older, and it’s happening fast. Nearly 11,000 Americans turn 65 everyday 1. This aging population, however, isn’t homogenous. It is a demographic that reflects the nation’s growing diversity and challenges us to rethink how we reach them with information that will benefit their quality of life and health.

Hispanics seniors are a perfect example of this challenge. In 2008, there were 2.8 million Hispanics over 65 in America. But in just seven years, the group is predicted to be America’s largest elderly ethnic group.2 This number will only increase as the number of Hispanic-Americans continues to grow.

It is not just their ethnicity that makes this group unique. One obvious factor is language. While younger Hispanics are bilingual or proficient in English, many Hispanic elders live in “linguistic isolation.” These individuals reside in Spanish-speaking communities where knowing English is an option, not a necessity. I observed this phenomenon first-hand when I facilitated focus groups with Spanish-speaking seniors about health issues and later, with my own mother, who moved to the United States in 1995.

Hispanic seniors’ financial statuses are also important to consider. Research shows that twice the number of Hispanic seniors live in poverty than Caucasian seniors3. Economic data shows these individuals consistently have lower median incomes and retirement savings than other individuals their age. These facts are important to know for two reasons:

1.Hispanic seniors’ economic insecurity may not just be affecting them. The number of Hispanic seniors living with family members are double that of other older Americans. 4That means caregivers are also an important audience to consider when seeking to reach this group.

2.There are numerous Federal programs to benefit low-income seniors and alleviate their health care costs. Communicating with Hispanic seniors about them is essential. More on that later.

Together, these factors significantly impact Hispanic seniors’ health. Research shows that the language barrier Spanish-speaking seniors encounter may be related to their inability to access common immunizations and other health care services.

When it comes to finances, more than one-third of Hispanic seniors spend 15% or more of their income on health care.5 Those costs, coupled the overall economic security among this group, means that more than a quarter of Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries also qualify for Medicaid. 6

These statistics do not just represent problems or inadequacies. They represent opportunities for communicators to develop innovative ways to connect with Hispanic seniors. TMNcorp (TMN) had this opportunity as we worked with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to develop a multi-media and community outreach campaign to educate Hispanic elders and their caregivers about the Medicare Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) for prescription drug costs.

Our initial research identified four main challenges that the campaign needed to overcome:

  • Hispanic seniors face cultural and language barriers that impede them from receiving and understanding information about government-sponsored health coverage and how they can benefit from it.
  • Hispanic seniors depend on relatives or trusted sources to relay information about these programs to them.
  • Receiving health information from multiple sources often creates confusion among Hispanic seniors, which also raises skepticism and credibility issues.
  • Hispanic seniors believed the enrollment process is complicated and time-consuming and may be denied

Armed with this information, we centered the Beneficio Adicional (Extra Help) campaign activities on clear and conversational messages that reinforced that many Hispanics were eligible for the LIS and that maximizing this benefit would help individuals live healthier lives. The result was a short, but impactful, campaign that produced 30 million media impressions, partnerships with 32 Hispanic-serving organizations and most important, an increase in Hispanics using the LIS benefit.

How did we do it? It wasn’t easy, but the secret to our success can be boiled down to three strategies that may help other companies and organizations reach this important demographic:

  • Maximize Community-Centered Outreach: Many Spanish-speaking communities where Hispanic seniors live are also home to community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve this demographic, including senior centers, clinics and faith-based groups. While these organizations may have limited resources, they also have a deep understanding of local needs and strong connections with community members. That is why we encouraged them to become our allies in reaching Hispanic seniors with LIS information. We offered CBOs access to free posters, newsletter articles, web banners and public service announcements to share among their constituents. Their involvement reinforced the campaign’s credibility and also helped overcome the cultural barriers that may be encountered in traditional outreach.
  • Look Beyond Traditional Advertising: TMN used Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) advertising in high-density Hispanic communities to bring incorporate the the campaign’s messages into Hispanic seniors and caregivers’ daily routines. As part of DOOH effort, television monitors were placed in more than 400 grocery stores and retail sites and showed a well-known Telemundo anchor interviewing a CMS official about LIS. Unlike traditional forms of advertising, this video wasn’t a sales pitch, but rather an opportunity to receive important information in familiar place. This nonthreatening approach made the audience more receptive both to the campaign and the resources being shared.
  • Share Information through Stories: Our research showed that a “just the facts” approach to information sharing with Hispanic seniors wouldn’t encourage this group to apply for LIS benefits. What was needed were encouraging and compelling stories centered around characters the connected with the audience. If seniors and caregivers could see someone like them benefit from LIS enrollment, they were more likely to consider enrolling themselves. For example, one radio PSA featured Mario, a Medicare beneficiary, offering friendly advice about applying for the LIS program. Another advertisement includes an interview with Elisa, a family caregiver, who describes how the program helped her mother. Taking this approach brought the program benefits to life while highlighting easy strategies to overcome any perceived enrollment barriers.

The bottom line is that Hispanic seniors, like any audience, have unique needs and preferences. Unlike other audiences, this group is growing rapidly. It’s our job communicators as communicators to keep up. We must consider how this demographic is evolving and identify the strategies that will keep them informed, engaged and inspired to make the most of their aging experience.

Nhora Barrera’s experience in community outreach, coalition-building, and culturally-sensitive social marketing spans two decades. As the founder of TMNcorp, she has been named to the list of Top 100 Hispanic Entrepreneurs by both Hispanic Magazine and Hispanic Business.


1CNS News,“Senior Boom: 11,000 New Seniors Become Eligible for Medicare – Every Day, June 11, 2012: cnsnews.com/news/article/senior-boom-11000-new-seniors-become-eligible-medicare-every-day
2Administration on Aging, “Facts on Hispanic Elderly”: aoa.gov/AoARoot/Aging_Statistics/minority_aging/Facts-on-Hispanic-Elderly.aspx
3Ibid
4Ibid
5National Council on Aging, “Economic Security for Seniors: Fact Sheet, 2012”: ncoa.org/press-room/fact-sheets/economic-security-for.html
6 National Council of La Raza, “The Role of Medicare in Hispanics Health Care,”: nclr.org/images/uploads/publications/StatisticalBriefHispanicsMedicare.pdf