HOUSTON – St. Joseph’s Medical Center in downtown Houston aims to accommodate the Latino patient population and reduce a national problem with non-English speaking patients facing higher rates of hospital readmissions.
The groundbreaking new Latino Health Center of Excellence (LHCE) unit provides culturally appropriate care for the hospital’s Latino patients. This goes beyond the requirements of language translators because, in addition to a fully bilingual staff, the LHCE also offers a dietary menu that reflects Hispanic culture and access to television programs in Spanish.
“You can more easily convey your messages or feelings in your own native language,” Dr. Javier Canon said while explaining how connecting with patients is just as important as fluency in language. “It’s the body language, it’s the cultural part, it’s being in tune with their emotions and their fears.”
Lorena Gauna was in the hospital with her mother while KPRC2 was there, and she said in Spanish how she was more comfortable leaving her mother’s side as she knows the staff will be able to easily converse with her. .
“I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to tell the nurse in English, now I can call the nurses and explain the situation to them in Spanish and they’ll respond in Spanish,” Gauna said.
According to LHCE director Rennie Rogers, their goal is to eliminate miscommunication, which can lead to readmission to hospital.
“It’s not just in the recovery, but it’s also them going home and understanding the aftercare instructions or the medication regimen,” Rogers said. “It comes down to the ability of the nurse to be able to do everything she does in English, including education and discharge, in Spanish.”
Patients who self-identify as “preferred Spanish speakers” on hospital documents can opt into the dedicated medical and surgical unit. However, Rogers admits that many patients are skeptical of the idea.
“Are you sure it’s the same level of care? It’s the same except the walls are blue and people speak Spanish,” Rogers said.
Patients who are not transferred to the LHCE will still have access to the Interpretation Services Department which provides 24/7 medical interpreters, which provides translators in all languages. However, Rogers wants more patients to understand that by breaking the language barrier, staff and patients can work to foster better communication and focus on healing.
“We need people to know what we are doing. Estamos aquí para ustedes. We’re here for you,” Rogers said.
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