Monday, August 16, 2010


Diverse community means bridging the communication gap in healthcare

Eastern Connecticut has become an increasingly more diverse community in recent years. Norwich Public Schools report more than 30 different languages are spoken in the homes of students. There are more than 2,000 people that hail from Haiti and Cape Verde living in the Norwich area.

So how does that impact the care of patients at Backus Hospital? Language barriers and cultural differences present a significant challenge to the delivery of healthcare.

Not understanding the language can cause significant harm if a patient does not understand the discharge medications instructions. To illustrate this point, my family loves to travel. If we were vacationing in Russia and I became ill and hospitalized, how would I understand my discharge instructions for care or read the medicine bottle labels if they were written in Russian? How frightening it would be to be sick or injured and not understand what the healthcare providers are saying and doing!

So what is Backus Hospital doing to meet the challenge of providing culturally competent care to this increasingly diverse patient population?

First, we have two certified medical translation services in place: Cyracom phone interpreter service, where a dual handset phone device is brought to the bedside, and there is a three-way conversation – the healthcare provider, the patient, and the certified medical interpreter.

The other service is MARTTI (My Access to Real-Time Trusted Interpreter) a two-way visual interpreter service. Both are immediately accessible 24 hours a day, and interpreters of over 100 languages are available. These two services have literally become life-savers and help avoid serious miscommunications.

Second, we have established a Cultural Diversity Council, comprised of 13 hospital staff members. The mission of the Council is to be a resource to address issues that arise and to provide education to the staff and community about customs, health beliefs, and practices of the different cultural groups we serve. Adapting to different beliefs and practices requires flexibility, a willingness to learn, and a respect for other viewpoints.

Third, we are hosting a Multicultural Health Fair called “Connecting with Cultures” that will be held on Thursday, Sept. 30, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the entry level conference rooms at the hospital.

This promises to be a fun and fascinating event, open to everyone in the community. There will be representatives from more than 20 cultures, with informational handouts on healthcare customs and recipes, and interesting displays at each table.

We are seeking volunteer representatives to sit at the tables for 2-hour shifts during the fair. For information or to volunteer to represent your culture, please call (860) 889-8331, ext 2495.

Alice Facente is a registered nurse and clinical educator with the Backus Education Department. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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