Delivering Culturally Competent Care

by Jamie Ulmer, CEO of Healthcare Network

Providing quality healthcare to everyone goes beyond just providing access to doctors and facilities. It also includes addressing the disparities that people of racially and culturally diverse backgrounds often experience. Doing so is important to the health of the overall community.

With the belief that the health of all of us depends on each of us, our commitment to our community as Collier County continues to rapidly grow, is to be innovative in the ways we reach at-risk populations.

Culturally competent care is defined as the ability to deliver healthcare services that meet the social, cultural and linguistic needs of patients.

Cultural differences can influence many aspects of care, including:

  • When and how patients view symptoms and health conditions
  • When and how patients seek care
  • Expectations of care
  • Preferences for procedures and treatments
  • Ability to follow recommendations and treatments
  • Who makes healthcare decisions

Language barriers may keep patients from describing their symptoms and providers from explaining diagnoses. Often, not understanding these cultural and language differences can result in inadvertently delivering lower-quality care.

Cultural differences can even impact how information is understood. For example, Advance Care Directives, which are legal documents that allow patients to spell out decisions about end of-life care ahead of time, allow patients to express their wishes to family, friends and healthcare professionals.

Language barriers and cultural differences can make conversations about end-of-life care a barrier to keeping patients engaged with the medical community. For example, for many Haitians, end-of-life discussions are considered taboo.

Also, medical documents are often translated into French for Haitian patients, but French is different from native Haitian Creole, particularly for complex medical terms and concepts. Jean Kesnold Mesidor, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor for Florida State University serving at Healthcare Network’s Isabel Collier Read Medical Campus in Immokalee, has worked to translate advanced directives and create informational videos in Haitian Creole to assist patients in understanding advance planning and to make those documents culturally relevant.

Cultural understanding is important to patients.

Haitian immigrant Olguine, who has diabetes and is blind, travels with her daughter Sophia from Bonita Springs for treatment by Healthcare Network in Immokalee because they appreciate and feel more comfortable in the care of their multi-cultural team, several of whom are Haitian. They feel the staff are considerate and understanding of their culture, values and beliefs.

Being culturally competent allows us to treat patients with compassion and dignity by understanding and responding appropriately to their wishes and desires.

We are committed to providing culturally competent care through consistent outreach to the community and by establishing partnerships with individuals, groups and organizations to identify ways to meet the community’s healthcare needs.

Additionally, we are committed to cultural diversity on our own staff. We provide communication to patients in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and more. We continue to work to improve our cultural competency, because we know it is important, not just for our patients, but for the community.

The American Hospital Association reports that an estimated 133 million Americans – nearly half the population – suffer from at least one chronic illness, such as hypertension, heart disease and arthritis. This impacts us all. The health of our community impacts everything– educational achievement, safety and crime, people’s ability to work and financial health, life expectancy, happiness and more.

About the Author Jamie Ulmer is President and CEO of Healthcare Network,which has a mission to provide quality healthcare accessible to everyone in the community.

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