The ultimate goal of cultural and linguistic competency is to improve health outcomes in our community. According to the National Office of Minority Health, a culturally and linguistically competent staff is better able to discuss healthcare beliefs, needs, and preventative care without being hindered by cultural differences or communication barriers. One of the most significant efforts for an organization wishing to implement cultural and linguistic competency strategies is to evaluate and implement strategies that will directly affect their clients.
Direct Client Interactions
When interacting with clients of different backgrounds, direct service workers often want a simple how-to, to help them navigate any pitfalls or embarrassing encounters. Though each culture has their own norms and customs, it is never a good idea to make assumptions about a person based on their identified culture group. Therefore, ask questions! Let the client know you are trying to be respectful and ask them ahead of time to let you know if you ever do something that is offensive in their culture. Know that:
- It may take longer to build rapport and trust with clients from different cultures. Be patient.
- Most people appreciate a sincere effort to reach out, greet them in their own language, or work with their beliefs. Don’t worry about making mistakes.
- It is always best to be formal initially, and always ask individuals how they want to be addressed.
This toolkit provides some basic information about specific population groups. When working with a client from a different background, it is best to do some research to understand their cultural context—rather than any specific do’s or don’ts that risk generalizing the individual.
Effective client interaction begins with clear communication. Evaluate all points of communication your program has with clients to identify opportunities for improvements or enhancements:
- Reception desk or phone greetings (first point of contact): consider having your front desk staff learn greetings in the languages most used by your client population. Additionally, ensure that your phone recordings or voicemail are offered in multiple languages to ensure clients have full access to all your information.
- Written materials: Ensure that your materials are consistently updated in the languages most used by your client population. This may include your website, brochures, and client grievance procedures. Ensure that these materials are written according to the Plain Language Guidelines. Do not forget to include appropriate accommodations for vision or hearing impairments.
- Verbal communication: Always be sure to use a trained interpreter when interacting with clients who have limited English proficiency or a hearing impairment. A family member or friend is not appropriate. As much as possible, use words (not gestures) to express your meaning.
Don’t assume clients understand the information you are providing, especially when you are communicating a need for them to do something. Ask them to reflect back to you what they have heard, in their own words.
Program Design Enhancements through Collaboration
Engaging the community is critical for designing services that provide targeted, appropriate care. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, collaborating with the community has multiple purposes for enhancing capacity-building efforts:
- Provides more responsive and appropriate service delivery to the community, as these services are guided by community interests, expertise, and needs
- Increases the use of services by engaging individuals and groups in the community in the design and improvement of services to meet their needs and desires
- Creates an organizational culture that leads to more responsive, efficient, and effective services and accountability to the community
- Empowers members of the community in becoming active participants in the health and health care process
Collaboration can occur through a number of ways:
- Client or diverse community stakeholder representation on your board of directors, advisory board, or program committee
- Formal partnership or collaboration agreements with community-based agencies
- Structured and ongoing feedback processes with clients, which are used by leadership to inform policy decisions and program design
Monitoring and Assessment
Program and service design enhancements must be closely monitored and continuously assessed. This toolkit provides several resources to assist agencies with evaluation:
- Self-assessments: This section provides several tools for individuals to evaluate their own cultural competency knowledge and service delivery. These self-assessments can be done individually or as part of an employee’s professional development to monitor progress over time.
- The MCH CLC Sustainability Plan: The Sustainability Plan developed for Ohio’s MCH Programs, which will be guided by the MCH CLC Council, will provide a detailed monitoring and evaluation plan that will be incorporated into regular reporting activities.
- Data & Messaging Resources: Use the tools and resources provided in the Communicate Your Impact section of this toolkit to help identify strategies for collecting data to assess program enhancements, as well as ways to communicate the result of these enhancements.