Holy Name Offers Culturally Sensitive Care for Asian Population

By Brenda Flanagan

At Holy Name Medical Center, nurses deliberately steer Asian patients away from rooms with a “4” on the door.

“Number four — when spoken in Asian languages — can mean death,” said Kyung Hee Choi.

Choi runs Asian Health Services at Holy Name and says her mission is to serve culturally sensitive care, from appropriate food choices — like an Indian buffet with hot chai — to knowledgeable interpreters and patient advocates. Sometimes, it’s the little things.

“For example when they come through they’re not going to want to drink icy-cold water. When we are ill, we are told to drink warm water,” Choi said.

“Most people — from any culture, any language, any country — when they find out they have to go into a hospital for services, tend to find that somewhat traumatic,” said Dr. Sharad Wagle, chief of psychiatry at Holy Name Medical Center. “It’s very scary. Especially, especially if you’re not very fluent or comfortable in the language.”

Hospitals are recognizing the need for outreach to New Jersey’s growing Asian population. Holy Name began offering health services tailored to the Korean community 10 years ago and gradually added programs for Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and — just recently — Asian-Indian groups. Jersey’s Asian-Indian population hit almost 293,000 in 2010 — more than 40 percent of the state’s total Asian population. When East meets West in the treatment room, it can get interesting.

“Western medications are treating from the top, down. Eastern medications are treating from the root cause — eliminating root cause. The root cause is belly. Belly is a magic box,” said patient Indravadan Patel.

It makes perfect sense to Patel — who’s accustomed to using Eastern Ayurvedic medicine’s extensive herbal pharmacy for whatever ails. Even though Patel went to the hospital for a cardiac bypass.

“Eastern medicines are very good — backed by 5,000 years,” he said.

“Hospitals can reach out and tell them advice, especially people who are ingrained in Ayurvedic’s way or holistic way or you know, home remedy, stuff like that,” said Bergen County Division of Senior Services Advisory Council Chair Suryakant Shukla.

Integrating the two medical philosophies isn’t that tough, advocates say.

“So I think there’s a marriage of culture and medicine, and somewhere down the line we’re going to have to find that good mix for every patient. If they’re comfortable smelling their lavender oil on their wrist, it’s fine with us. Do that. If it’s not contradicted by the medication, it’s fine,” said Rekha Nandwani, program manager of the Indian Medical Program at Holy Name Medical Center.

“This culturally sensitive care is going to lead to much better health outcome,” Choi said.

Holy Name will study this program’s impact on health care delivery. Choi believes that the numbers will show cultural outreach equals a healthier community.