Sunday, September 20, 2009

More cultural sensitivity in health care, this time in the U.S. and with a cross-border angle

Last week, I wrote here of a clinic in rural Peru that has adjusted to local cultural norms in order to be able to serve its clientele better--or, more precisely, in order to get its would-be clientele to use its services. Today's New York Times reports a somewhat similar story, but this time out of California's great Central Valley. Patricia Leigh Brown reports in "A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul," of Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California, population 70,460, and its new policy of permitting Hmong shamans the same privileges that clergy get.

While Merced is neither rural nor nonmetropolitan by government definitions, its economy is driven by agriculture, a pursuit in which many Hmong immigrants there engage. Many of these Hmong immigrated from rural norhtern Laos to California and the upper Midwest in the wake of the Vietnam War. At the Mercy Hospital, an average of four patients each day are Hmong.

The following excerpt from Brown's story describes the institution's new policy and some of its aims:
Because many Hmong rely on their spiritual beliefs to get them through illnesses, the hospital’s new Hmong shaman policy, the country’s first, formally recognizes the cultural role of traditional healers ... inviting them to perform nine approved ceremonies in the hospital, including “soul calling” and chanting in a soft voice.

The policy and a novel training program to introduce shamans to the principles of Western medicine are part of a national movement to consider patients’ cultural beliefs and values when deciding their medical treatment. The approach is being adopted by dozens of medical institutions and clinics across the country that cater to immigrant, refugee and ethnic-minority populations.
As of 5 pm PST on Sunday, the day the story appeared in the paper's print edition, it is among the top-10 most emailed stories on the NYT website.

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