Appropriate primary medical care is difficult to find for limited English-speaking seniors. PASSi wants to change that


Penn Asian Senior Services received a $100,000 grant to expand its services.

Those with limited English proficiency (LEP) often struggle find appropriate health care in their mother tongue. This leads to miscommunication with their doctors, and often, negative health effects.

The two biggest barriers for LEP seniors in Philadelphia to receive appropriate health care are language barriers with their doctors and arranging transportation to appointments.

Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSi), which provides linguistically appropriate senior services to Asian seniors and other LEP seniors in southeastern Pennsylvania, seeks to streamline care for their seniors, so they can age older. comfortably and better manage their chronic diseases, by improving access to primary health care in their mother tongue.

Last week, PASSi received a $100,000 grant from the Cigna Foundation to begin integrating on-site primary care into their already existing home health care and adult day care services. Their hope is to effectively create a “health care hub” for their approximately 800 low-income seniors to access all the care they need in one place, translated into the 19 languages ​​they speak.

Ken Yang, executive director of PASSi, said his experience as a Korean-American helps him understand the unique challenges faced by LEP seniors.

“Since English is now my mother tongue, I don’t have to focus on understanding what someone is saying. In the clinician/patient relationship, it’s amplified,” he said. “This kind of language bridge…we think it’s going to bring more understanding, more comfort, and a deeper clinician/patient relationship that we hope will lead to convenient access.”

Yang said it would be especially helpful for older people to better understand how to manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes.

“Much of Asian cuisine is built around a staple of simple carb rice. But what we’re going to try to do is [say in Korean], ‘Elder, replace plain white rice with multigrain rice’,” he said. “It’s the ability to have this rapport ‘in the cultural frame’ that hopefully can lead to greater adherence and better health outcomes.”

(Courtesy of Penn Asian Senior Services)

Smartphone class at Evergreen Center

Older people with LEP often rely on family members for help with daily tasks like reading their medicine bottles, interpreting doctor’s instructions, and generally managing their conditions.

Although Yang is not fluent in Korean, he often finds himself helping his LEP family members with daily chores.

“My brother’s father-in-law, who is Korean, just visited me to get help reading this document in English,” he said. “My Korean isn’t great, but we’re doing our best, and it’s something we hope to address in maybe even a bigger setting, like health care.”

PASSi development manager Peter Buzby said he wanted to streamline the process.

“It is often the responsibility of the next generation to serve as interpreters for the elderly. But that’s not an ideal solution for a number of reasons, one of which is that a large portion of Asian seniors are linguistically isolated. They live in homes where no one speaks English, so they may not have someone to ask to interpret, or they may just be uncomfortable always asking people for help” , did he declare. “So while in some cases asking friends, family, the next generation to serve while this bridge is working, it’s not ideal. Older people prefer to receive care in their own language.

PASSi reports that 85% of the seniors they serve have chronic conditions that require daily treatment.

In addition to physical health care, Yang said he wants to add mental health education to his programming.

“In many Asian American and Asian cultures, the aspect of mental health, issues of anxiety, depression, these are things that unfortunately still carry a stigma,” he said. “Mental wellbeing and mental wellbeing checks are already part of our adult day care, so we want to follow that in even greater depth and with greater reach.”

PASSi wishes to eventually expand to add optometry, physiotherapy and occupational therapy to its practice.

“That’s pretty much where we become almost a one-stop-shop where you can not only get care from your regular doctor,” Buzby said. “But also if you need follow-up assistance or some kind of specialist care, we are able to provide that service.”

Clayton Fitch, chief executive of PASSi, said providing their elders with doctors who speak their language will ultimately lead to better health outcomes.

“Whether it’s simple instructions, taking medication, caring for wounds, or anything else on that spectrum, being able to ask your doctor a question is one of the things I think we all care about. taken for granted, but it is very important in the practice of care.”

Fitch said the grant will also allow PASSi to provide free transportation for its seniors to receive care.

“All of the seniors involved in the program are eligible for Medicaid. So very few of them have access to their own vehicles,” he said. “Even if they live in the city, it can be a challenge. because most transport brochures and applications are written in English or Spanish. Very few are written in Korean or Chinese, so it becomes a process, even if they have access to public transportation near their home. Navigating this system becomes a challenge in terms of language access.

Renovations are expected to begin soon at PASSi’s building in the West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia. They expect to hire a nurse practitioner and a clinician by the fall and possibly integrate specialty medicine into their practice in a few years.


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