Jennifer Caffrey is used to seeing a lot of diverse faces under her care on a daily basis.

Jennifer Caffrey is used to seeing a lot of diverse faces under her care on a daily basis.

"In a given week, I have at least a couple Hispanic or Latino patients in a given shift," said Caffrey, a registered nurse at Ashland Community Hospital.

The hospital has a large proportion of Hispanic births at their obstetric center, particularly in contrast to Ashland's Hispanic population. Out of 367 births between August 2007 and July 2008, 93 were of Hispanic parentage, accounting for 25.34 percent of all births within the past year. By contrast, the 2000 U.S. Census placed Ashland's Hispanic population at 3.6% of all residents. A more recent survey of the region performed by the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that as of 2006, 8.3 percent of Jackson County residents were of Hispanic origin.

The high proportion of Hispanic births in Jackson County has been partly attributed to La Clinica del Valle, a preventative care and health center based in Talent that has long tailored its services specifically to its Hispanic clientele. Now in its 20th year, La Clinica served over 12,000 individuals in 2007, 40 percent of whom were Hispanic.

"We started out as a migrant health center, which explains our name and our ties to the Latino community," recalls Maria Underwood, the development director at La Clinica's main branch in Phoenix, Oregon. "Since then we've expanded to serve a culturally diverse group of low-income patients, but we still have a very Latino-friendly group of support staff and doctors."

La Clinica is not a free clinic, but the center has a sliding scale for its rates and works with uninsured patrons to come up with payment plans, which adds to its appeal for low-income customers.

"Our services attract patients from the whole region, but our OB-GYNs have operating privileges only at Jackson County hospitals," explained Maria Underwood. She recounted a story of one Latino woman who had moved to Jackson County from the coast solely to apply for prenatal care at La Clinica del Valle.

"There is a funnel effect that brings us, and by extension our hospitals, a larger clientele then one might expect," Underwood said.

Sources at Ashland Community Hospital indicated that other area facilities were also receiving an influx of Hispanic families seeking care.

"We've had Hispanic births make up 50 percent of our births at times in recent years," says Jennifer Caffrey. "Now, though, Providence Medical Center in Medford is also getting a bunch of new patients, and demand seems to be spread more evenly throughout the county." La Clinica del Valle opened a second branch in downtown Medford in 2003, and is currently developing another facility in Central Point.

Outsized birthrates for Hispanic residents are not unusual for Jackson County, or for Oregon as a whole. In early 2007, The Oregonian reported that one out of every six students in the statewide public school system was Hispanic. Analysts point to a combination of cultural factors and demographic trends to explain the numbers. Hispanic families tend to be larger, with U.S. Hispanic women bearing, on average, 2.3 children per individual, as compared with 1.8 for non-Hispanic whites. When combined with recent immigration trends, which draws laborers to Oregon's strong agricultural economy, the Hispanic and Latino community accounts for most of the state's population growth.

The interconnected network of providers and hospitals in Jackson County provides a care structure that draws residents from across the region, and that is creating a loyal customer base for disadvantaged and underinsured residents, such as Hispanics, who seek affordable health care that caters to their specific concerns.

"La Clinica actually did all its deliveries at Ashland Community Hospital until fairly recently," said Miriam Soriano, a private practitioner based in Ashland who works with La Clinica and has operating privileges at ACH. "La Clinica put area Latinos in contact with bilingual doctors, people who had a cultural understanding of their needs, and that lead them to ACH when it was time to operate."

Soriano noted that the hospital has begun to actively court the clientele who had once come to them by default. The menu has been diversified to include traditionally Mexican staple foods, such as the beverage etole, and more bilingual staff members have been added.

"Hispanic patients tend to be more concerned with finding a supportive atmosphere than with a particular procedure," Soriano said. "The people who I've brought to ACH keep coming back."