Cultural Competency: A 21st Century Skill

Joseph Santos-Lyons

By Joseph Santos-Lyons of Portland, Oregon. Rev. Santos-Lyons is Coordinator for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. APANO is working in partnership with a range of communities of color, led in part by the People of Color Health Equity Collaborative and the Racial Equity in Health Prevention Coalition, along with the State of Oregon Office of Multicultural Health & Services to pass Senate Bill 97.

On Monday, the Oregon Senate is poised to pass Senate Bill 97, advancing a top goal of communities of color. Over the last month hundreds of Oregonians have testified, attended hearings and submitted public comment, many for the first time.

Every day, Oregon becomes more diverse. Our health care system is changing as fast as the demographics in our state. SB 97 is a modest plan to develop cultural competency standards and education, collaboratively between experts, providers and regulatory boards in order to improve the way our health system delivers care. Oregon's multicultural communities are united in support of SB 97, because Cultural Competency is about caring for all Oregonians which ultimately helps the financial bottom line of our health care system and our economy.

Cultural competency is about interacting effectively with people of different backgrounds. When health professionals lack important information or understanding of the health of a patient, we all pay for it. Ineffective patient communication leads to misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, and drive health inequities. A report (pdf) released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland shows that between 2003 and 2006, the expenses linked to health inequities for communities of color cost more than $229 billion. Add the indirect costs for lost work days and reduced productivity, and the total cost for health inequities came to $1.24 trillion nationally.

The foundation of cultural competency is to understand the wholeness and complexity of individuals, their families and their communities. SB 97 improves the foundation of our health care delivery system, positioning our workforce to work effectively with a diversifying and globalizing Oregon and decreases liability of health care professionals, further reducing costs. It is in Oregon's best interest to drive down these costs, and establish basic minimums for cultural competency training as one proven tool. We need smart solutions like SB 97 that improve trust and expand quality health care, while reducing avoidable, expensive emergency room visits and burden on taxpayers.

Oregon's communities of color are growing, voting, and becoming more deeply engaged in addressing the disparities we face. While Oregon's legislature may not be representative of our growing multicultural diversity, and may not understand the persistent racial health inequities impacting our communities, they do have an opportunity to do something about it by passing Senate Bill 97. This is a significant moment, and we're watching the outcome very closely.

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    You can sign a petition in support of SB 97 here:

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    Is the GLBT community included in these cultural competency directives? If not, why not?

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    Inter-alia, from the bill:

    "'Cultural competence' means the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, economic statuses, races, ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, religions, genders, sexual orientations and other characteristics in a manner that recognizes, affirms, values the worth of and preserves the dignity of individuals, families and communities."

    The bill goes on to define relevant training under that definition to improve health care practices.

    You can read html of the bill here: Or search on SB 97 here: if you want to download a pdf of the printed version.

    (Disclosure, the Portland Jobs with Justice Health Care Committee with which I work has endorsed SB 97, and I helped to draft a sign-on letter circulated by Health Advocacy Allies in support of the bill as advancing all elements the "triple aim" in Oregon's health care reform laws: improving patient experience, cutting or containing costs, and improving population health.)

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