In 2020, Montana's literacy rate was 91.20 percent, making it the 16th most literate state in the U.S. While Montana is doing well on a national scale, there's still that nine percent (more than 96,000 people) whose daily lives are affected by illiteracy. There's work to be done. In fact, in 2019, Montana received a five-year, $50 million literacy grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve literacy in schools, focusing on disadvantaged children.
So, why are governments pouring millions of dollars into improving literacy in Montana? Literacy is important for mental, physical, and psychological health. It sets people up for success beyond just getting good grades in school or getting into the college of their dreams.
Literacy has very practical health applications as well. In one study, participants with lower literacy rates were less likely to seek preventative care such as pap smears, mammograms, and immunizations. Lower literacy levels are also associated with an increased risk of hospitalization. And, as you can imagine, literacy barriers can make any health-related task – reading a prescription label, filling out a consent form, or following a hospital map – difficult or even impossible.
Ultimately, when people are literate, they're more likely to make positive and well-informed decisions about their health, which can lead to lower healthcare costs in the long run and a better quality of life.
But achieving literacy for all isn't as simple as it may seem because so many environmental factors impact it. Inadequate literacy is associated with less formal education, lower socioeconomic status, and certain racial and ethnic backgrounds. By addressing these literacy-related barriers, we can help reduce disparities in health outcomes.
Community Health Partners (CHP) understands this important relationship between literacy and physical and behavioral health. That's why we've taken on several initiatives to improve literacy among those of all ages in our community.
Research has shown that children see lifelong benefits when their parents read aloud to them each day, including building literacy skills. That's why CHP participates in the national Reach Out and Read program, which partners with pediatric care providers to encourage reading for parents and children. Because of its proven health benefits, CHP health providers give parents with 0- to 8-year-olds an age-appropriate book at every clinic visit and make reading a "doctor-recommended" activity. In 2020, the program put 706 new, age-appropriate books in the hands of young children.
CHP's Adult Education Program provides education for adults of all ages and backgrounds. For those who didn't receive a high school diploma, it can prepare students to take the High School Equivalency Test (often called the HiSET), which allows them to earn an equivalent degree.
More than diplomas, the Adult Education Program can help prepare people for a variety of life endeavors – a driver's license exam, a food handler certification, or heading into an interview for a job. We're proud to say that last year, our adult education program helped 37 adults pass a high school equivalency exam or advance their education in pursuit of a job or post-secondary education. Through this program, we're able to help people improve their literacy skills, setting them up for long-term health and success.
Health literacy is about making things easy to understand for people of all backgrounds so that patients can make healthy decisions for themselves. CHP makes health literacy a priority in its conversations with patients. All new staff members are taught about health literacy and given a health literacy test as part of the onboarding process. Before appointments, CHP staff let patients know what to expect and what to bring with them. All written material is provided at a 7th-grade reading level, and CHP staff are trained to slow down and focus on a few key points, using pictures to describe things. They may ask patients to restate what they said in their own words. They also avoid acronyms and figures of speech. Most of all, they seek to create a welcoming, supportive environment.
If you're struggling with illiteracy, know that CHP is here to help. When you seek healthcare from CHP, we'll go the extra mile to make sure you understand any information we provide. Reach out to establish care with us today.