The Maine Medical Center in Portland uncovered a high no-show rate for appointments made by Muslim women from African countries and literally covered up the source of the problem. They offered the women a redesigned, fuller hospital gown to replace the breezy "johnny," as the traditional hospital gown is known across New England.
Administrators at Maine Medical Center decided they had to act in November after the hospital discovered three out of 10 women were skipping their appointments.
"We have a huge (immigrant) population," said Wayne Clark, associate vice president of communications and marketing at the 600-bed hospital. "We have 31 languages in our high school. We have a growing Somali community, as well as people from other parts of the world. We have an enormous Cambodian and Thai population as well."
Tracked down at home, the Muslim women, whose religion and culture require them to be covered, described to interpreters the horror of being asked to wear the revealing gowns during outpatient procedures.
Furthermore, they said they were publicly humiliated when they had to wait in a hallway in the radiology department.
The dress code for Muslim women is derived from the Quran. Followers say teachings on modesty require women to cover themselves from head to toe. Only the hands and the face may be exposed. Many believe that their beauty should be reserved only for husbands.
Maine Medical put the new johnnies on all garment carts for patients who request them. They have enough material to provide more coverage of a patient's legs and extra material to ensure that a patient's backside remains covered. Underneath, there's a wraparound sarong for even more coverage.
"Why didn't we think of this so long ago?" asked Nathaniel James, M.D., an internal medicine physician at the international clinic.
Clark said the use of the new hospital gowns most likely won't be confined for long to Muslim women.
"I think once the word gets around, they're going to be popular with everyone, because nobody likes hanging out of those johnnies," Clark said.