To meet the challenges posed by treating patients from diverse ethnicities, hospitals and healthcare systems will need a better understanding of the differences and similarities between various cultures.
To help providers acquire that understanding, two speakers at this year's ACHE congress will discuss cultural awareness programs in a seminar titled "Building a Successful Diversity Effort: Eight Key Elements" at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, and 10: 30 a.m. Wednesday, March 4.
Promoting cultural understanding among staff members can improve patient care, says Leslie Krauz Stambaugh, president of RLS Associates, a management consulting company based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"(Patients) need to be treated sensitively and responsibly, and to do that, employees need to feel they are treated sensitively," Stambaugh says. "They need to model how they treat patients on their own treatment."
Using the program at University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor as a case study, Stambaugh and co-speaker Laurita Thomas, director of human resources at the university's medical campus, will outline a step-by-step approach.
Among the eight elements are a needs assessment, awareness building and follow-up analyses.
Each program should address the specific needs of the hospital or healthcare system. The University of Michigan program, headed by the human resources department, concentrated mainly on staff relations. For example, the program implemented an improved process for conflict resolution and a mentoring program.
A full-time diversity coordinator and staff volunteers made other staff aware of diversity issues by posting internal memos, inviting outside speakers and hosting international dinners. Follow-up surveys measure progress and changing needs.
The program cost $500,000 to implement.
Diversity training eventually will touch upon important aspects of medical care, Thomas says. Patients from different cultures respond differently to illness. For example, because depression is a social taboo in the Japanese culture, Japanese patients who feel depressed might instead complain of a stiff neck, she says.
Eventually, a successful diversity program becomes an integral part of the hospital's own culture. "Diversity work can never end," Thomas says. "We're always learning more about people's similarities and how to value that."