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Inclusion: Medical communities extend reach to diverse cultures

Midstate hospitals are stepping up their efforts to reach out to the region’s increasingly diverse population.

Midstate hospitals are stepping up their efforts to reach out to the region’s increasingly diverse population. Many of these organizations are focusing these efforts on their employees.

Hospitals want to go beyond typical translation services for their Hispanic, Russian and Vietnamese patients. Hospitals expect that their employees have a cultural understanding of how these patients view medical care and healing.

“The main thing is that it’s the right thing to do,” said Deborah C. Davis, manager of diversity, inclusion and employment equity at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Derry Township. “Everyone deserves to be understood and have a voice in their health care.”

The Dauphin County medical center started offering a cultural-competency workshop for its employees about two years ago. The three-hour class, which includes videos and interactive exercises, gives workers the chance to ponder how they view health care and how people from other cultures might think differently than they do, Davis said. She expects the workshop to be rolled out this fall to staff at the Penn State College of Medicine, also in Derry Township.

WellSpan Health in York also uses education to promote diversity. The health system has more than 30 educational offerings for employees interested in inclusion and cultural understanding, said Bob Batory, WellSpan’s vice president of human resources. Employees and departments can earn a certificate in diversity awareness if they complete enough courses.

The goal of the classes is not necessarily to change employees’ cultural biases but rather to make them aware of these predispositions, Batory said.

“People want to do the right thing by their patients, but they don’t know how to do it,” he said.

Some organizations are starting their cultural-understanding efforts at the top.

Lancaster General formed a committee to examine how the health system can take its diversity efforts to the next level. One of the group’s actions was to create a new executive-level position of vice president of diversity and inclusion. The position is designed to help Lancaster General become a welcoming place not only for people of different races and ethnicities but also those of different genders, ages and ideas, said Mary Miskey, the health system’s vice president of human-resources operations.

“We want an atmosphere that is really open to innovation and new ideas,” she said.

A health-care worker’s understanding of a patient’s culture can determine whether that patient gets quality care, said Claudia Petruccio, research and community programs specialist for the Institute for Cultural Partnerships in Harrisburg. For example, people of different cultures use different words and phrases to describe symptoms.

“What you end up with if the health-care organization isn’t prepared, in the worst-case scenario, is that there is no communication,” Petruccio said.

Understanding different cultures also is vital to providing a welcoming environment for a diversity of employees, said Louise Reich, vice president of human resources for PinnacleHealth System. The Harrisburg-based system’s staff includes people from Vietnam, Cambodia, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Russia. These workers are vital in helping the health system battle labor shortages, Reich said.

“We’re going to have to look somewhere to find replacements (for workers),” she said.

When promoting cultural understanding, hospitals have to be sure their education efforts don’t perpetuate stereotypes. It’s good to have general ideas of how different cultures view health care, but medical workers shouldn’t assume that all people within a culture will act the same, Petruccio said.

More health-care organizations will establish and expand inclusion efforts, observers predicted. They have no choice if they want to continue to serve a diverse group of patients, Davis said.

“Everyone is paying attention to it,” she said. “Health care is now ready.”

Speaking the language

The state wants to help hospitals turn their employees into well-qualified medical translators.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is working with Penn State University to develop a curriculum to teach translation skills to health-care workers, said Larissa Bedrick, department spokeswoman. The instruction would focus on bilingual workers and would examine issues such as medical terminology, cultural understanding and non-verbal communication.

Once the curriculum is finalized, it probably will be tested though a pilot program at several hospitals, Bedrick said.

“Hopefully, it will become a statewide program,” she said.

—Christina Olenchek

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