The United States is referred to as a melting pot for a reason. This nation has always been culturally rich, with people from all areas of the world bringing their unique backgrounds together. But according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States continues to become more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before.

The Census Bureau found that Asian and mixed-race individuals represent the fastest-growing segments throughout the U.S. The states with the highest diversity index include California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Maryland, just to name a few. What does this mean for the healthcare sector, exactly? As the population continues to change, the healthcare industry and its executives, physicians, and nurses must change along with it. All healthcare staff must be able to adapt to the unique backgrounds and needs of every patient that walks through their doors. 

The healthcare industry has made steps to adjust to the distinct care needs of culturally diverse patients, but we still have a long way to go. One thing that healthcare facilities, especially skilled nursing and other long-term care centers, must do is recognize issues that can impact cultural sensitivity within their organizations. Below are two examples.

Language barriers

While English is the most commonly spoken language in the U.S., not every patient you see will be bilingual. This is especially true for older generations. While these patients might have a child or grandchild who can help translate for them, there may be some instances where this isn’t the case. Either way, your facility must be proactive in its inclusivity.

Rather than relying on the graces of a family member for communication, find and hire staff that is fluent in some of the most common languages spoken in the U.S., like Spanish and Chinese. This will help make the patient feel more comfortable and supported throughout their stay. This is even more critical for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, as these neurological conditions can make bilingual patients forget their second language, which further hinders communication. 

Cultural assimilation

Being a minority in a healthcare environment can cause significant distress, especially at skilled nursing facilities where patients demand long-term care. Language barriers and differences in social norms can make patients feel uneasy, or even worse, threatened. It’s important to understand the unique mannerisms and beliefs of patients, which should then be used to inform their transition into your care. 

For example, Japanese patients believe that being too expressive is impolite, so they might hold back important medical information that can impact their diagnosis and treatment. Asian and Muslim women may feel uncomfortable wearing a hospital gown, as their religious beliefs demand a higher level of modesty than other cultures. Lastly, Mexican patients may seem uninterested in traditional recovery options, as they often use different healing practices to overcome their ailments. The better you know your patients and their backgrounds, the better able you’ll be to create an environment where they feel safe and comfortable. 

Cultural diversity must be an asset within every healthcare facility, big or small. Your staff must learn how to support every patient population so that you can welcome any person into your center and extend the same sensitivity and care to everyone.