Government, Health Care, and Human Resources

Cultural competence: Have we arrived?

August 18, 2014
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As the face of America darkens — and the West Michigan community becomes increasingly diverse — it’s important to step back and assess our ability to effectively work in cross-cultural situations.

Cultural competency is one tool that may assist our community in better meeting the needs of diverse clientele. While cultural competency does and should transcend far beyond the world of health, significant strides have been made within this discipline to outline strategies for improvement. As a public health professional and leader of one of a few minority-focused health agencies in our region, I see cultural competency as a mechanism for narrowing the gaps seen in health outcomes between non-whites and whites.

The federal government first released the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care in 2000, and in 2013, it released a revised version of 15 standards.

The standards can be broken down into four categories.

- Principle standard

- Governance, leadership and workforce

- Communication and language assistance

- Engagement, continuous improvement and accountability

The overall goal of the standards is to provide a blueprint that will ultimately aid in providing high-quality care for all individuals. Consistent with any blueprint, implementing organizations must realize that the standards only provide a framework and must work individually or collectively to fill in the gaps.

In a community that prides itself on working to become inclusive, racism free and healthy — the adoption of the standards seems like an easy win. Yet, true uptake and sustainability has been slow. Federal- and state-funded entities are encouraged and often required to be culturally competent, but to what degree of regulation? It’s easy to complete a checklist, but harder to ingrain these standards and concepts into workplace culture.

The policies and skills required in the quest toward cultural competence can be taught and to some extent mastered, but only with an understanding that as a community we must move beyond competence — to a point of cultural acceptance and understanding. The quest for cultural understanding is a life-long journey without a destination. We will never arrive. Rather, we will constantly evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of our population.

I am up for the journey and hope that the community I call home will accompany me on this trip. 

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