Serving diverse populations

The call to Jamaica, New York-based Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center comes from an excited father.

“I have a new baby boy!” the man yells to Linda Spiegel, director of public affairs at Margaret Tietz, which is a member of Beth Abraham Family of Health Services.

“Wonderful!” Spiegel replies. “So how can I help you?”

“We’d like to know if, next week, we can have the traditional Jewish Bris ceremony and reception inside your facility so that great grandma ‘Bubbe’ can be there to celebrate with us. It wouldn’t be the same without her.”

Spiegel agrees without hesitation and, a week later, the ancient Jewish tradition—complete with kosher refreshments for 200 invited guests—goes off without at hitch. “It made us so happy to do this for Bubbe and her family,” Spiegel says. “It’s just how we do things here. We celebrate and treasure everyone’s multitude of backgrounds and experience.”

A group of staff members and registrants poses for a photo op at Margaret Tietz’s adult day healthcare program.

Attending to the cultural needs of residents is of great significance to Beth Abraham’s facilities. Residents are encouraged to experience activities—ranging from Indian dance to origami—with others who speak similar languages or come from similar cultures. Dining is also all-encompassing, serving American, Chinese, Indian vegetarian, and Russian kosher foods to residents.

No population ignored

Sheva Turk, director of the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation Jamaica Adult Day Health Care program, ordered Rosetta Stone language-learning software and told interested staff members that they could use late-day work time to learn Spanish. Since many residents are native Spanish speakers, more than half the staff, including Turk herself, signed up to participate. “The program is terrific, and we have a lot of enthusiasm,” Turk says.

Gloria Velazquez and Suzhen Ni have grown close through their love of quilting, even without sharing a spoken language.

In Beth Abraham’s various Comprehensive Care Management (CCM) facilities, music over the loudspeakers reflects local populations. Visitors can play dominoes at one site and do Tai Chi at another. There is even a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) site serving the Dominican Sisters of Amityville. The program is attuned to the Sisters’ religious traditions, while also catering to the healthcare needs of members from the community.

In ‘Chinatown,’ a program mingles Spanish- and Chinese-speaking residents. Many of the women in both ethnic groups had worked in the garment industry, so they started quilting together and have now produced several magnificent quilts. “These women have grown very close and are a cohesive group now, all without sharing any spoken language,” says Pat Moore, the CCM director of enrollment. “Sometimes wordless sharing speaks volumes.”

CCM is also doing a series of events on diabetes for the Latino community of Upper Manhattan (El Barrio and Harlem) and other boroughs. In addition to health education via Latino physicians, CCM will supply attendees with Latino cookbooks, diabetic exchange cards in Spanish, blood sugar tests, healthy snacks provided by neighborhood restaurants, and fresh produce.

Getting everyone involved

Beth Abraham is rooted in the entire continuum of long-term care. With home care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, adult day healthcare, managed care, music therapy, HIV/AIDS care, and seniors housing, the importance of cultural diversity has far-reaching impacts. As such, the company’s combined workforce speaks 72 languages.

“When looking for new staff, we attend job fairs throughout the New York area that promote diversity, including the Women for Hire Job Fair, the City University of NY Big Apple Job Fair, NAACP Job Fairs, and the Daily News Health Care Job Fair,” says Saadia Bennett, Corporate Recruiter at Beth Abraham.

Some diversity efforts benefit everyone, including both staff and patients. Steve Castro, head of food service at Beth Abraham Health Services, one of the company’s four skilled nursing facilities, offers culturally diverse menus that reflect the varying backgrounds of staff and clientele.

“We go way beyond mashed potatoes and meat loaf!” Castro quips about his flexible cooking. “This week alone, we’re serving matzah ball soup, arroz con pollo, ravioli, chicken marsala, homemade beef lasagna, stir fried chicken, homemade flan, and lots more.”

On special ethnic day celebrations, such as recent Hispanic and West Indian days, the staff decorates the cafeteria with flags of foreign nations. Some staff members even get dressed up.

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