Program Report: Bringing Latinos to the Table – Dr. Luke Smith

Let’s set up more seats at the table.  There’s plenty of room.  And a lot of human upside.

Dr. Luke Smith set aside his psychiatrist’s notebook Monday and made a persuasive public call for more inclusion across the community for a Latino population that is growing locally at the statistical equivalent of fast forward.

Dr. Smith acts as executive director and medical director of El Futuro, Inc., a Durham-based non-profit helping Spanish-speaking people and their families by providing behavioral health treatment for a population traditionally underserved in this important area of development.  He spoke to a near full house during our first luncheon since Thanksgiving.

“They really bring strength to the table,”  Dr. Smith said, noting low rates of organized community participation that can and should be be improved.  “It’s important for our prosperity that we welcome them to the table.  There is room at the table.  There is an open seat at the table. And when we bring them, we are not just going to be placating them.”

Among the numbers presented by Smith alongside photos of the people behind the numbers:

  • Latinos make up nearly 9 percent of the state’s population, a continuing growth trend that began more than two decades ago with job opportunities in the textile and poultry industries in a state the issued drivers licenses until 9/11.
  • Latinos are “underserved;” they comprise just under 4 percent of people served by the state mental health system, due to a wide range of factors including cost, fear of identification, fear of driving, insufficient “health literacy” and fear of perceived discrimination by providers.
  • Latinos are expected to make up 25,000 of 45,000 expected growth in individual residents in Durham County between 2010 and 2020.

Dr. Smith said El Futuro continues to yield clinical and functional successes among the people whom it has aided since a group of volunteer health professionals opened the doors in 2004.  Most are poor women and children, many who have experienced direct or indirect trauma.  Eighty percent of patients over a recent 3-month period demonstrated clinical improvements and nearly as many had functional improvements.  Ninety-nine percent reported feeling helped and respected.  They’d recommend it to a friend.

Dr. Smith himself trained in child and adult psychiatry at UNC when he moved to the RTP region in 2000 from Arkansas.  He described his engagement with the Latino community here as a “full immersion experience” that left him fluent in Spanish and fond of the cuisine.

In short, El Futuro works.  It’s moving the needle.  It’s helping to broaden the civic table a seat at a time.  And for El Futuro’s efforts, our club and our community are grateful.


Submitted By Mark Lazenby

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