Hispanic Health Initiative (HHI)

Johns Island, United States; North Charleston, United States
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South Carolina has experienced one of the fastest growing Hispanic/Latino populations in the nation. The influx of this population has been significant, particularly on the rural sea islands, such as Johns Island. This increase in the number of Spanish speaking residents has been recent enough that the cultural norms and health beliefs of the Spanish-speaking population are not well understood by health care providers. Language barriers, poverty, and cultural differences are associated with fewer preventive services, increased use of hospital emergency rooms, and poor satisfaction with care among Hispanics.

Imagine being a young, pregnant woman living in a foreign country where you do not speak the language and you do not have your extended family and social support system available. You are not sure how or where to seek medical services, or even know what services might be available to you.  Also imagine being a nurse in a health care facility when an immigrant patient arrives seeking care. Are you able to adequately converse with them to diagnose their health concerns?

These are scenarios that are occurring all too often across this country. Dr. Deborah Williamson has practiced as a nurse midwife for more than 25 years. Because of this clinical expertise, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church on Johns Island contacted her about providing prenatal care to immigrant women living in the community. Once the services were established, word spread quickly that prenatal care was available from Hispanic speaking health care providers and women from across the region began coming to seek these services.

As Dr. Williamson became involved in working with this group of women, she wondered who would provide primary care to the women and their families. She began forging new partnerships with other community organizations including local health clinics, schools, libraries, and law enforcement, to address this health need. Today, the Office of Hispanic Health Initiatives in the College of Nursing, led by Dr. Williamson, has received grant funding from The Duke Endowment, Health Resources and Services Administration, Communities In Schools and The National Libraries of Medicine and other private funding sources. Bilingual health services and educational programs are now being provided to individuals and families from birth to adulthood.


  • To provide seamless, culturally appropriate primary health services for Spanish-speaking women and their families utilizing an inter-professional team.
  • To provide culturally competent and linguistically appropriate family-centered care emphasizing education, support and healthy lifestyles.
  • To build cultural and linguistic awareness about the diverse Latino cultures and existing health needs through curriculum innovations.
  • To increase recruitment of under-represented populations in nursing.

PASOs empowers Latino families to optimize maternal and child health within their social and cultural context through education, outreach, partnership, and advocacy.  In their new communities in SC, immigrant Latina mothers oftentimes lack the information and power to make healthy and informed decisions for themselves and their families.  In their new communities in SC, immigrant, Latino families oftentimes lack the information and resources to make healthy and informed decisions.  PASOs, meaning steps in Spanish, provides a bridge between the Latino community and the health care system in order to maximize the health of Latino women and children, and provide them with access to needed resources.  For more information, please visit the state PASOs website or contact Virginia Vedilago at 843-792-4362.

ABRAZOS  is an early childhood development program in North Charleston that also provides health promotion and literacy education to mothers with three and four year old children. As the children are developing their school readiness skills (gross and fine motor skills, speech and language, and cognitive and social abilities), their mothers are focusing on learning English as a Second Language and participating in a weekly health promotion class.  The program meets four days a week at Midland Park Elementary School in North Charleston and serves approximately 32 Spanish-speaking women and their children.  For more information about this program, please contact the Health Promotion Coordinator, Anna Tecklenburg.

The Teen Health Leadership Project
Funded by the National Libraries of Medicine, the Teen Health Leadership Project is a collaboration between the College of Nursing at MUSC and St. Johns High School.  As the only public high school on Johns Island, St. Johns High serves a diverse population of students.  The Teen Health Leadership Project seeks to empower these high school students, providing resources and support for them to assist and serve their community.  The project provides health literacy training as well as leadership development skills, enabling the students to design and implement outreach projects to improve the awareness and use of quality health information in their community.  Through a series of experiential opportunities and mentorships, the Teen Health Leadership Project also seeks to encourage young people of diverse backgrounds to become health professionals.


Associated Faculty & Staff

Deborah Williamson

Global Health Issues

  • Education and Training
  • Child and Adolescent Health
  • Maternal Health (includes Reproductive Health)
  • Community-based Primary Health Care