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UCHealth shares results of new ‘cultural navigator’ pilot program

The program provides more resources to COVID-19 patients and their families who speak limited English, and is expanding because of its success.

AURORA, Colo. — UCHealth is sharing the results of a new program at University of Colorado Hospital that pairs patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) with “cultural navigators” to help them through their hospital stays and subsequent discharges.

“COVID really highlighted the need,” Katie Herrmann, the manager of UCHealth’s Inpatient Social Work Services, told 9NEWS. “Disproportionally, the folks who were being affected, and who we were seeing, were people who English was not their first language.”

The hospital said while numbers have fluctuated since the beginning of the pandemic, LEP patients have accounted for about 40% of their inpatient COVID-19 population on average; 76% are covered by Medicaid, the Indigent Care Program or self-pay, and 40-50% do not have a primary care provider.

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“[There is a] lack of understanding in health literacy about what’s going on with their loved one,” Herrmann said when describing the language barriers between LEP patients, families and hospital staff. “This program really just highlighted that we have an opportunity to really improve our communication and care.”

UCHealth’s University of Colorado Hospital contracted with the Spring Institute’s Project SHINE in October. 

“We strive to create more inclusive communities by engaging the most isolated populations and to decrease health disparities by helping people navigate our healthcare system and engaging them in preventative health activities in their communities,” according to the Institute’s website.

While the hospital has always had translators, cultural navigators and advanced practice nurses from the Spring Institute help hospital staff understand certain cultural norms, and connect patients and their families with culture-specific resources during and after their stay.

Since the pilot was launched in October, the hospital has paired 210 COVID-19 patients and their families with a cultural navigator.

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Those patients represented 26 languages, the top 10 being Spanish, Burmese, Nepali, Vietnamese, Amharic, Arabic, Tigrinya, Karen, Cantonese and Oromo.

“The pilot program has improved these patients’ medication compliance, their understanding of the disease (isolation requirements, etc.), access to oxygen and other medical supplies, and follow-up medical care,” according to the hospital. “The pilot has also provided vital assistance with ‘social determinants of health’ needs like food assistance, rent assistance, transportation and temporary housing needs."

Recently, the cultural navigator program has expanded to other parts of University of Colorado hospital, including the OB/GYN and the Neurology and Medicine departments.

A bigger expansion to other departments within the UCHealth system is being considered.

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