Access to Russian language television may not appear at the top of the wish lists of most nursing home residents. But at Shore View Nursing Home in Brooklyn, N.Y., it's a priority.
In recent years, the Brighton Beach community Shore View serves has seen an influx of mostly Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of them the older parents of neighborhood residents.
As a result, Shore View has seen a surge in the number of Russian immigrants referred to it for long-term care by its nearby home-care and hospital affiliates and members of the community.
In 1991, three of the proprietary skilled-nursing facility's 320 residents were Russian-speaking. But by this year's count, that number has reached 65.
To accommodate such rapid growth, Shore View developed the 21/2-year-old Russian language program for which it won this year's Marriott Service Excellence Award in the Patient Service category.
Eric Kalt, Shore View's administrator, said that while the resident population had been changing dramatically, the staff at the facility had not. The number of full-time Russian-speaking staff members remained constant at four, making communication between staff members and a fifth of the residents virtually impossible.
"We were encouraging Russian-speaking residents to come here, but we needed to look at how to educate all levels of the staff," Kalt said. "We had a problem of language communication from the caregiver to the nurse to the dietitian to the physicians."
To address the problem, Kalt hired a former Russian chess champion to help coordinate interpretation services, Russian-centered recreational activities and special Russian meals.
Kalt also asked a Russian-speaking psychologist to volunteer her expertise on cross-cultural issues. Meanwhile, a special interdisciplinary committee gathered information on Russian language and culture and on changes the residents and their families wanted.
The nursing home now offers translation services during daytime hours through the help of community volunteers who are assigned to each of the facility's eight floors.
Eight Russian-speaking staff members and a steady stream of bilingual student interns help plan various educational activities, Kalt said. Doctors and nurses can take basic Russian classes, and Russian residents can study basic English. Signs and handout sheets translating key phrases have been distributed, and the public address system announcements are made in both languages.
Leisure activities also have been tailored to Russian-speaking residents. The library stocks Russian language books and magazines. Traditional Russian holidays, such as Women's Day and Victory Day, have been marked by special meals and entertainment. And, on a more regular basis, residents can play bilingual bingo.
Kalt said the program has increased the participation of Russian-speaking residents in recreational activities by more than 90%.
In addition, Russian residents now receive one-on-one visits from volunteers and can attend seminars designed to help them adjust. Families of residents also are offered special assistance in understanding how the nursing home works and how they can ensure that their loved ones' needs are being met.
"It's continuous quality improvement," Kalt said. "We had a new patient population. We were reactive and responsive to the community. We went out into the community and looked for Russian speakers."