Spanish-Language Soap Operas Tackle Health Care Telenovelas have long been a staple of Latin American media. Now, they are being used in Colorado to communicate public health messages. State officials there have developed a new telenovela called "Encrucijada: Sin Salud No Hay Nada," or "Crossroads: Without Health, There Is Nothing." Writer and Producer Jesus Fuentes and Joanna Lindsay, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Planning, discuss the marketing strategy with guest host Mandalit del Barco.

Spanish-Language Soap Operas Tackle Health Care

Spanish-Language Soap Operas Tackle Health Care

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Telenovelas have long been a staple of Latin American media. Now, they are being used in Colorado to communicate public health messages. State officials there have developed a new telenovela called "Encrucijada: Sin Salud No Hay Nada," or "Crossroads: Without Health, There Is Nothing." Writer and Producer Jesus Fuentes and Joanna Lindsay, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Planning, discuss the marketing strategy with guest host Mandalit del Barco.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, host:

I'm Mandalit Del Barco, sitting in for Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, hip-hop icon Jay-Z becomes the most successful solo artist ever with his 11th number-one album, "The Blueprint 3." It surpasses even Elvis Presley. That's just ahead, but first, a doctor delivers a terrifying diagnosis.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Encrucijada: Sin Salud No Hay Nada")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

DEL BARCO: And Lachekis(ph), a young woman, defends herself after driving drunk.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Encrucijada: Sin Salud No Hay Nada")

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

DEL BARCO: These are just two of the story lines in a new telenovela airing in Colorado. It's called "Encrucijada: Sin Salud No Hay Nada" or "Crossroads: Without Health, There is Nothing." It's a melodrama with a public health message. Joining us now from Denver are two of the people behind the show, writer and producer Jesus Fuentes and Joanne Lindsay, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. Welcome to both of you.

Mr. JESUS FUENTES (Writer, Producer, "Encrucijada: Sin Salud No Hay Nada"): Hi, how are you?

Ms. JOANNE LINDSAY (Spokeswoman, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing): Thanks for having us, Mandalit.

DEL BARCO: Thank you. Joanne Lindsay, let's start with you. Telenovelas, as you know, have been used in a lot of different countries to spread all sorts of messages promoting safe sex or against domestic violence, and what made you want to do the same sort of promotion for health care in Colorado?

Ms. LINDSAY: You know, Mandalit, we have about 150,000 kids who are uninsured in Colorado, and over half of those kids are eligible for Medicaid or our Child Health Plan Plus program, and the reason we're looking, and we produced the telenovelas because approximately 62 percent of those who are eligible are Latino.

DEL BARCO: And telenovelas are quite popular with this crowd, too. Jesus Fuentes, when people watch "Encrucijada," does it look, and does it feel like the other telenovelas where, you know, somebody's sleeping with somebody else, or someone is killing somebody, or someone's long-lost sister or twin, that sort of thing? How does this compare to those kind of telenovelas?

Mr. FUENTES: Oh, the quality is just the same. The real challenge here was to write something that has the medical information but to have the things that always happen in the telenovelas, like people crying and people having fun, and every single chapter has something special. And you never guess what is going to happen.

DEL BARCO: Let's play a clip for an ad for "Encrucijada."

(Soundbite of TV advertisement of TV show, "Encrucijada: Sin Salud No Hay Nada")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

(Soundbite of automobile accident)

DEL BARCO: Wow, that sounds really dramatic. Jesus, what's happening in this scene?

Mr. FUENTES: Oh, everything. We can see Lachekis in a party with all those teenagers having fun, but she was drinking too much, and then she just said, oh, you know what? I need to go. And a close friend, she told her, like, hey, you can't drive like that, you shouldn't. And then she said oh, I don't care. I'm leaving. But, like a telenovela, everything happened there. And there was a guy that was watching Lachekis like oh, I like here, and then he said oh, Lachekis, let me drive. Like hey, nice to meet you.

Ms. LINDSAY: He's trying to protect her.

Mr. FUENTES: Yeah, he was trying to protect her.

DEL BARCO: You know, are you concerned about over-dramatizing this kind of situation so much that they don't seem normal?

Mr. FUENTES: All the stories that happen there are real stories. My research coordinator and - they gave me all that information, and I was very, very careful because I wrote everything with a lot of respect. And it was not only me, it was Robert Mancanillo(ph), it was Edward Mancanillo(ph), that we were writing this. But when we created the characters, we were very, very careful because we want to talk about this with all respect, and we were trying to do something that can change somebody else's lives.

DEL BARCO: Joanne, I understand that 40 percent of the state's adult Latinos in Colorado do not have health care coverage. So what was the message, and what are the kind of storylines that go through this telenovela that give that message?

Ms. LINDSAY: What we've really been able to do with the telenovela is weave into stories about how to apply for public health insurance programs, how to enroll, and more importantly, the value of having health insurance. We also talk about how to manage chronic illnesses -for example, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, asthma - because we know that there's that disparity among Latinos.

And so, we have talked to health experts around the state and asked them what are some of the myths and the barriers, and what message can we get across to people to improve their health? That is really the main is to get people covered so their health can be improved. That's been the purpose of this. We want to help people change their behaviors but give them the information they need first.

DEL BARCO: And so, how would you measure the success or failure of this program? I mean has it inspired a lot of people to get more health care, to check in with their doctors, to not drive drunk, to not act like Lachekis?

Ms. LINDSAY: Lachekis. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LINDSAY: What we have found is an increase in enrollment in CHP Plus and Medicaid, which is an indicator for us. We - in January 2007, for example, there were about 250,000 kids, and as of July, there's 325,000 kids who are in Medicaid and CHP Plus. We also have an evaluation component for this because we want to be able to evaluate the effectiveness and we're getting information from community-based organizations. We're doing surveys. But then for the long term, because that's what we really want to see, to have people change their behaviors, we're doing case studies to follow the viewers through the entire process.

DEL BARCO: And you have some sort of a call center as well. How does that tie into this telenovela?

Ms. LINDSAY: The call center number is placed on the episodes for the entire time because it is available for people to talk to real live people called health promotoras, who are lay community health workers. And what we're doing with that is connecting that caller - that client to services. So it's an immediate hey, I just saw this. I have this or I need to see a doctor for my kid for asthma. Where can I go? What can I do? I need more information about my diabetes. So they're getting a live person - that's before and after the show, during and especially, people can leave messages 24 hours a day and someone's going to call them back.

DEL BARCO: Joanne Lindsay is a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and Jesus Fuentes is a writer and producer of "Encrucijada," a telenovela airing in Colorado.

Thank you both for joining us.

Mr. FUENTES: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Ms. LINDSAY: Thank you very much.

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