Language as a communication barrier is often cited as one of the most troubling issues one can face when encountering the healthcare system in this country. The jargon used by medical providers can often confuse and confound many English speaking patients. This becomes even more greatly compounded when the patient cannot speak English. Even the basic conversations regarding a diagnosis, prognosis and course of therapy can leave one totally confused when they cannot fully comprehend the language spoken by the practitioner, or even when they depend on a friend or family member to interpret everything said.
At VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, we often encounter such individuals stuck in the dilemma of language barriers — whether it be the language spoken or through deafness. In the case of those hearing impaired, we arrange for trained American Sign Language specialists to assist. For Spanish-only speaking clients, we depend on bilingual staff to assist them in interpreting the information and instructions they may need to aid in their recovery or in their need for continued medical and/or nursing services at home. However, as the demand for services increases (VITALity Care Coordination services have seen over a 20 percent increase in volume this year alone) the availability of bilingual staff begins being stretched beyond capacity.
To remedy this for our Spanish speaking clients, we have entered into a relationship with Rutgers University School of Nursing-Camden and the College of Arts and Sciences –Internship Course, to become part of a program of studies called “Spanish for Health Professions.” Resulting from a meeting last spring with Dana Pilla, co-director of the program, VITALity was introduced to the program and agreed to participate.
The program seeks to promote health equity for underserved Latino and immigrant populations by strengthening Spanish language skills among future healthcare professionals and seeks to place them in internships with area healthcare providers and organizations to give them practical real world experience to enhance their academic pursuits.
Pilla, assistant teaching professor, and Ana Laguna, associate professor, both faculty members in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, serve as co-directors for this innovative program which has recently been honored by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) with their 2018 “Innovations in Professional Nursing Education Award,” which recognizes the outstanding work of AACN member schools to re-envision traditional models for nursing education and lead programmatic change.
We are pleased now to have a nursing student participating in this program join our staff as part of her internship. Yahoska Morales is a senior at Rutgers School of Nursing – Camden. Ms. Morales works under the supervision of Mimi Schaible, RN, VITALity director of Care Coordination, as she accompanies our care coordinator nurses on their home or parish site visits with Spanish speaking clients.
Mrs. Schaible notes, “Her growing skills in conversational medical Spanish has quickly become a great asset to our team, particularly as the number of Spanish speaking elderly clients continues to rise. We can now serve them more efficiently and more effectively, putting them more at ease in conversation and direction toward assistive services available to them. Yahoska is a big help in breaking down the language barrier that can inhibit the proper comprehension of the situation at hand. Her presence helps to increase the effectiveness of the outcomes of each encounter. We are grateful for her immediate contributions into our services.”
Nancy Pontes, an assistant professor of nursing and a co-leader of this interdisciplinary program, notes that improving the Spanish language skills of students and future health care providers is “perfect for Camden,” where about 40 percent of the city’s residents speak Spanish as their primary language, according to U.S. Census data.
This link with Rutgers University -Camden School of Nursing is a vital part of what VITALity seeks to accomplish here in the city of Camden, which is building closer community ties with our elderly residents in need of supportive healthcare services to assist them with age-related problems. To find more ways to help them that are more culturally compatible. And to break down the language barrier. A barrier that can be the greatest obstacle for them in receiving the care and services they need and in gaining access to those services for their continued safety and well-being in their homes. This link also provides for an opportunity to seek more partnerships with the growing system of medical and nursing education here in Camden through the Cooper-Rowan School of Medicine and Rutgers University. Innovative collaboration can only bring about improved health care supportive services for all the residents of Camden.
This internship relationship is certainly a “win-win-win.” It provides the university students with real world learning experiences, while providing this enhanced resource within VITALity to expand our services to more people. Most importantly, it provides an environment for our Spanish-only speaking elderly clients in which they can be treated with greater dignity and more effectively. All of this results in a better outcome of care coordination and resources brought to bear to assist them in remaining safe and healthy in their homes as they battle health and mobility issues secondary to the effects of aging.
We are confident that this new and unique relationship will certainly bear great fruit in bringing the maximum needed and proper healthcare supportive services to our Spanish-only speaking elderly in South Jersey. We are grateful for the confidence that Rutgers University has shown us through our inclusion in this internship program.
VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services is a ministry of the Diocese of Camden providing care to the elderly and disabled of South Jersey. Through various charitable programs, VITALity aims to enhance their lives through ministries of service that they can access through their parishes and local communities to assist them through the challenges of aging. For more information about VITALity or to request assistance, call us at 1-888-26- VITALity (888-268-4825) and one our staff operators will be happy to help.
Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden.