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Health care report 2008: Kaleidoscope of cultures challenges, inspires health care industry

CyraCom International Inc., a company that provides language
services to the medical industry, tracks what languages are used to communicate
with patients at health care organizations nationwide.

CyraCom International Inc., a company that provides language
services to the medical industry, tracks what languages are used to communicate
with patients at health care organizations nationwide.

What the company’s data says about Central
Pennsylvania might surprise you.

Last year, there were at least 42 foreign languages used at
health care organizations in the midstate. These languages ranged from Spanish
to Somali to Bosnian. The most-used languages in Pennsylvania included Mandarin, Russian and
Arabic.

The data provides a glimpse into the growing presence of
diverse groups in the midstate. It also is a reminder of the enormous
challenges health care organizations face in trying to give these groups the
same access and quality of care afforded to whites and English-speakers. This
lack of access has many consequences – including delayed medical care and
mistrust of doctors – that drive up the cost of health care for everyone.

“There needs to be a focus on ethnic and racial disparities
in health care,” said Dr. Rhonda Johnson, a medical director at Highmark Inc.,
a Pittsburgh-based insurer that serves the midstate. “People deserve quality
health care, no matter their ethnicity or race.”

In the past few years, health care organizations have made
many strides to become more culturally sensitive and recruit a diverse
workforce. Among these efforts:

<Highmark medical directors and more than 1,000 of
Highmark’s clinical staff and customer-service representatives have completed
cultural-competency training. Nearly all of Highmark’s 19,000 employees receive
diversity and inclusion training.

<Many organizations, including Penn State Milton S.
Hershey Medical Center and Lancaster General health system, have hired
executives who specifically focus on diversity and inclusion.

<A new interactive training program designed to help
health care workers tap into their differences to improve patient care made its
debut in January at PinnacleHealth System in Harrisburg. The program, developed
with help from Penn
State University
and the South Central Workforce Investment Board, is expected to be rolled out
to health care providers statewide.

<Hanover Hospital in York County
plans to hold a conference in October to provide diversity education to health
care educators.

Government is getting involved, as well.

In 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Health established
the Office of Health Equity to coordinate efforts to eliminate health
disparities, disparities that particularly affect members of minority groups.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services publishes a report each year
examining the prevalence of these disparities nationwide.

Hospitals and other health care organizations have become
more aware of and receptive to the needs of diverse groups, such as immigrants,
blacks, women and the elderly, observers said. Yet there’s more work to be
done, Johnson said.

“We still have a ways to go. The issue is not going away,”
she said. “Health care disparities are continuing.”

Diversity among health care consumers will continue to grow,
said Ken Kark, vice president of marketing and channels for CyraCom, which is
based in Tuscon, Ariz. Exactly how much it will grow depends on the upcoming
presidential election and what new immigration policy, if any, results, he
said.

“Even if immigration was to shut down to zero, the demand
for language services would continue to grow,” Kark said. “There are so many
people who are not English proficient who are having families.”

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