By: Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc, Publisher, the Inclusion Quarterly
Everyday occurrences and unprocessed feelings usually form the basis of my blogs. Today’s is no different. It is Tuesday, and I am still thinking about the elderly Italian woman I saw over the weekend in a long-term care facility and left wondering: Is there a better way to meet the needs of residents who do not speak English?
I don’t know Rosa (name changed to protect her identity) but I do know that she is Italian as I recognize some of the words she yells or her conversations to imaginary people. No one understands what she is saying and nurses and attendants just continue to speak to her in English, or they ignore her completely because they just don’t know how to communicate with her. Residents will refer to her as “the crazy one” or the “one who is always screaming”. I only know a few words in Italian, but I happened to recall the expression, Che bella ragazza. I decided to look directly at her and say these words to her, checking to see if there was a response. For a moment, she paused as she appeared to hear something familiar and I only had wished I could remember more. I had just referred to her as “a beautiful girl!” Her face temporary lit up and my heart was warmed. If only, I could have a conversation with her, I thought.
I had to wonder, what was it like for her to be in a home where no one understands her. How frightening to become invisible and voiceless. What a disappointing way to end the remaining years of one’s life.
The need for multilingual staff and volunteers is extremely important in effective healthcare delivery. As more immigrants are entering these facilities, I believe that we could be at a crisis point if we do not do more to address this issue especially in long-term care. Even though the immigrant resident may be fluent in English, for reasons I don’t understand they will often resort back to their mother tongue especially as dementia sets in.
While it may be impossible to have staff who can speak all the languages the residents do, there should be more effort made to provide care to them in their own language.
Here are some recommendations for providing more multilingual services in long-term care.
Employee Recruitment . Research the demographics of your community and include foreign language competencies in job postings based on what you find and on your current service needs.
Libraries and Print Materials. Consider purchasing or asking for donations of multilingual books, periodicals and tapes that residents can enjoy. Add international media.
Foreign Language Training. There are many low-cost and no-cost ways of learning another language. Conduct a Google search and you’ll find many that are free.
Create a Picture Dictionary With Basic Words and Salutations. These small gestures could go a long way with keeping the resident more stimulated in addition to increasing the competencies of the employees.
We are facing unprecedented changes in healthcare and creating more culturally competent organizations do not have to be costly. Using existing community resources and becoming more innovative in the recruitment, selection and retention of employees can go a long way with developing more inclusive services.