One of the most important challenges in healthcare today is providing high-quality care that meets the needs of our increasingly diverse society.
Melting pot management
Treat diversity at the workplace as boon, not bane
The population of our country is growing more varied each year. This change is not limited to large cities like New York. The entire nation is changing demographically; a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report projected that over the decades to come, our nation will continue to become more racially and ethnically diverse. Minorities, now roughly a third of our population, will constitute the majority of our people by 2042. We will see increasing numbers of immigrants coming to our shores from every corner of the globe.
As CEO of a not-for-profit organization that provides long-term healthcare in our nation's largest city, I know that this challenge has not been adequately addressed to date. Our current healthcare system can be difficult to navigate for many of these individuals. How will we meet this growing need?
Our organization, Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, has been serving New York's diverse communities with long- and short-term care for decades. With years of experience in addressing an issue that so many are beginning to grapple with now, we have found a number of cost-effective strategies to help provide enhanced services to these populations, leading to improved patient outcomes and higher levels of staff satisfaction.
Diversify your staff. We draw full- and part-time staff from the ethnic groups we most commonly serve. We invest in training them, and many now feel it's their mission to give back to their own communities. Our employees speak 72 different languages and dialects—not just English and Spanish, but everything from Azerbaijani to Yoruba. Diversity is a core value of our organization.
Be creative. If there is a need, some out-of-the-box thinking can help you address it. For instance, we were approached by an order of the Sisters of St. Dominic who didn't want to leave their order's long-time residence to receive much needed care. They came to us because they felt that we have successfully served the needs of a diverse population for so many years, so we would be able to provide them with high-quality healthcare, while respecting their religious lifestyle.
To meet their needs, we created a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly center right in their facility for their use, as well as the use of the community. The new center has become a boon to the neighborhood, brought us into an area of Nassau County, N.Y., where we had no presence before, and allowed the sisters to receive the care they needed.
Train, train, train. Our staff undergoes extensive training regarding working with people whose backgrounds are different. Our home-health aides, for instance, take classes in ethnic cooking, so they can make healthy, culturally appropriate meals that homebound clients will eat. One of our centers even invested in popular language-teaching software, and more than half the staff members signed up to learn Spanish.
Treat difference as an asset, not a hassle. We take pride in the variety of backgrounds that make up our city, our staff and our patient population. Registrants enjoy activities that celebrate the cultural heritage of our clients, ranging from Indian dance to origami.
In Chinatown, a quilting program mingles Spanish- and Chinese-speaking registrants. Many of the women in both ethnic groups had worked in the garment industry, so they started quilting together and have now grown quite close even though they don't share a spoken language. One of our adult day-care facilities provides not only delicious American food, but also Chinese, Indian vegetarian and kosher food. When residents eat better and enjoy activities together, they stay healthier.
To provide the best service, healthcare organizations must acknowledge our nation's diversity. By reaching out today to the wide assortment of people who give our country such a rich sense of heritage and celebration, providers can prepare, both financially and in terms of the services they provide, for a changing future.
Michael Fassler is president and CEO of Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, New York.
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