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Is Racism a Pandemic Too?

Is racism a pandemic too?

The COVID-19 crisis and social justice issues have placed questions of racism firmly in the spotlight. Much like the pandemic, race, diversity and inclusion impact every one of us both directly and indirectly. With so many nursing staff being women, specifically women of color, it certainly hits close to home. It can hit especially hard when that “home” is the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and beyond.

Whether it’s race, religion, language, place of origin or traditions — these are the ingredients of culture that make up our way of life, and being a good person means respecting them. But in a healthcare setting, the challenge is two-sided — you may feel like you’ve been placed in more risky situations than other colleagues and have less access to adequate personal protective equipment, while patients struggle with finding themselves in a heightened vulnerable state due to their own race and state of health.

Having cultural awareness is not just about being polite or open-minded. For CNAs who often have the most touch time with patients, it’s important for facility management to provide organizational support and resources to tackle ongoing issues of race in the workplace. And in turn, CNAs must let go of assumptions based on the race or ethnicity of their patients, and have the foresight to identify critical points that can affect their quality of care.

All American Healthcare is an extremely diverse organization. We thrive on the strength of staffers and patients of all races, religions and backgrounds coming together, so no one feels like they are fighting this battle alone.

We recognize that in many cases, you as the healthcare professional, may be your patient’s closest interaction with someone like yourself. They may have never encountered a person from Haiti for example, and certainly not on the personal level your job demands. Respect the power you hold. Recognize that you can shape not only their time in your care, but also their view of different people and the world.

When care and culture clash

Brenda Chaney, a black CNA, was hired by Plainfield Healthcare Center in Indiana. Like all employees, she received her daily responsibilities on an assignment sheet before beginning each shift. Among the items on the sheet was a miscellaneous column for comments on nursing home residents. Chaney’s assignment sheet noted that a resident in her unit “prefers no black CNAs.” She later filed a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in federal court claiming that Plainfield’s practice of honoring the racial biases of residents was illegal, and created a hostile work environment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed.

While Chaney’s treatment by her employer was reprehensible, it serves as an important reminder that there is no room for racism in our profession. What steps do you personally take to mitigate it?

Consider when you encounter a patient whose name you can’t pronounce, or worse, whose responses you can’t understand due to their accent? To go a step further, do you ever think maybe your patients have a hard time understanding you?

Consider when you encounter a patient whose name you can’t pronounce, or worse, whose responses you can’t understand due to their accent? To go a step further, do you ever think maybe your patients have a hard time understanding you?

We thrive on the strength of staffers and patients of all races, religions and backgrounds coming together, so no one feels like they are fighting this battle alone.

 

What about a Muslim patient who’s been ordered to remain on bed rest after surgery due to low blood pressure. But he insists on getting out of bed to kneel and pray five times a day, despite the danger to his well-being.

Under typical circumstances, a patient’s family and visitors can play important roles in these kinds of scenarios. Often times they can help, and other times they can make things harder too. Regardless, with the current visitor restrictions of COVID-19, remember that patients feel even more alone without their support system. This only puts your interactions with them, and your awareness of what makes them unique, at more of a premium. You can be the advocate they need now more than ever.

Having cultural competence

Culturally appropriate care doesn’t mean stereotyping. While you can’t assume that all patients of the same background have the same needs, you can learn about your patients as individuals and adapt your care accordingly. The patient who seems uncooperative may not fully comprehend the treatment options being discussed or understand what’s at stake.

Bottom line: Recognizing diversity and acting on it when treating people of different races and cultures is key to providing the best care, and ultimately, to saving someone’s life. 

Caring across cultures

As an effective care provider, you need to adapt to your patients’ diversity. The following five steps can help ensure that you’re providing culturally competent care:

1 Identify your own biases

By practicing self-awareness, you’ll better recognize cultural differences, and how you can best embrace them to provide better care. Looking inward will give you an understanding of how your perceptions impact others.

2 Study different cultures

Remember that learning never ends. Developing cultural sensitivity is vital to your role as a healthcare provider. Sharing an interest in your patients can endear you to them and actually make your job easier.

3 Learn patient preferences

From diet to pain management, ask your patients about their likes and dislikes. Your willingness to get to know them is a sign of respect. It can help put them at ease, build trust and influence their experience at your facility.

4 Talk to families

As much as possible, use families as a resource to find out more about their background and how it influences the needs of the patient. Actively including them can help you gain allies and enlist a team approach.

5 Draw from the experiences of others

Ask your coworkers what they have learned about working with different kinds of people. They may have valuable insight that relates to your patients and what is common at a given facility, especially as a new hire.

And when in doubt, the best thing to do is ask. Most people do not expect others to know everything about their culture, religion or background, but will appreciate you making a genuine effort to learn.

Fostering conscious care

The social disparity of access to critical job needs, as well as patient care and services that people of color receive is not okay. When you take a moment to learn about people on a more personal level, you’re investing your own valuable time to build a stronger connection. The simple act of listening shows care providers and patients alike that you respect what makes them the person they are. Not only does it let them know you care, it helps them respect the person you are too.

 

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