Reducing Barriers to Care by Improving Cultural Competency

By: Marty Stempniak

Health care leaders talk about providing culturally competent care, but one Brooklyn hospital is taking things a step further.

Lutheran Medical Center has a “Sabbath elevator” that stops at all six floors without pressing a button, assisting Orthodox Jews who were taking the stairs instead. Jewish law forbids those observing the Sabbath from using electrical switches. Caregivers offer longer “modesty gowns” for Muslim women who can’t show any skin. And the 468-bed acute care hospital even has a wing devoted to its Chinese patients, with everyone from doctors to orderlies who speak the language and know the culture.

“Patient-centered care is the mantra now,” says Virginia Tong, vice president of cultural competence at Lutheran HealthCare, the medical center’s parent system. “Well, the patient comes with all kinds of things, and a lot of it is their culture and their family. It’s not just about language, but what are their belief systems? Who are the decision-makers? What kinds of alternative medicine do they use?”

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