Maimonides Medical Center community-based health model addresses the cultural divide

Hospitals across the country are trying to gain a better understanding of the social needs of their patients and cultures that may prevent people from seeking out healthcare before they become seriously ill. But one New York hospital that historically served a predominately Jewish population has made great progress meeting the needs of immigrants from China, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe.

Maimonides Medical Center, a 711-bed specialty care teaching hospital in Borough Park, Brooklyn, is located in one of the most racially and ethnically diverse areas in New York. Its patient population includes large numbers of Orthodox Jews, Arabs, Chinese, Latinos, Russians, Caribbean people and residents from South and Southeast Asia. The areas they serve are ranked high in rates of household poverty and lower levels of education.

"We are a community, and we serve people who elsewhere on the planet today are killing each other literally. Here, they're not," Maimonides CEO Kenneth Gibbs told Business Insider. "I think part of that is about the moment at which we come together is those who need and those who provide healthcare. It's about that service that vulnerability and that sense of purpose that allows for humanity to emerge rather than all the things that we can find to disagree about."

In its community health needs assessment plan (PDF), the hospital talks about its efforts to reach out to different patient populations by recruiting patient representatives who are bilingual to serve as liaisons and patient navigators during a patient’s inpatient, outpatient or emergency department visit.

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But the main challenge is to keep those patients out of the hospital in the first place. The organization is trying to address chronic disease prevention, a big problem within the community due to inadequate access to healthcare and healthy foods, and additional social, economic, and cultural factors that influence childhood vaccination, physical activity, nutrition and access to prenatal care, the report notes.

Another problem: Minority populations are more likely to delay seeking care until their conditions worsen, making it more difficult to treat, Keith Chan, a professor of social welfare at the University at Albany, told Business Insider.

So the hospital has created community outreach to learn more about the different cultures so they can better engage with patients and train clinicians how to talk to patients about diseases like diabetes and cancer. Physicians go into neighborhoods to talk to patients who may be reluctant to go to the doctor because of religious or cultural beliefs.

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Research indicates that community health programs that improve access to healthcare and address other socioeconomic needs like housing and better training for future health professionals can help reduce healthcare disparities.

And once hospitals fully embrace these models, Chan said that it will help improve the health of all Americans and not just certain populations.