Hennepin County Medical Center sees nearly 60 to 80 deaf patients each month, including patients who do not use the English language. Having a language barrier as well as hearing loss can make communication challenging in any setting, and explaining health information requires special attention.
“It brings up the natural question, ‘Does everyone use the same sign language?’ or ‘Isn’t it universal?’” asks Nathan Ellis, Coordinator of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at HCMC. “In fact, it’s not. Even American Sign Langauge, used only in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, is different than British Sign Language, despite sharing the same spoken language base. That’s why we’ve worked to create several new processes to assist our limited English proficient (LEP) deaf and hard of hearing patients and their families when they come to HCMC for care.”
It began two years ago when HCMC partnered with Lifetrack Resources and their smaller group, Minnesota Hands and Voices to support the needs of Spanish speaking families with deaf or hard of hearing children. This partnership provides support in the form of peer and community understanding and sharing to help reduce the feelings of isolation experienced by deaf and hard of hearing persons in the Spanish communities.
Minnesota Hands and Voices worked with HCMC’s Pediatric Literacy Liaison, Lynn Burke to provide books in English and Spanish for Spanish speaking families with deaf and hard of hearing kids. HCMC is now expanding the literacy initiative to other language families that have deaf children or relatives to also improve adult literacy.
Technology is also improving communications for deaf and hard of hearing patients and their families. HCMC has installed a public video phone in the Emergency Department area for deaf patients, friends and family to use, and a video phone is also available for deaf employees.
In addition, HCMC recently received a grant to purchase two new iPads from Apple and should have them available for patients this spring.
“The iPads will allow us to use visual media to aid in the understanding of diagnosis, procedure and general medical related questions,” says Ellis.
HCMC has also repurposed “Easy Street,” an interactive area that features simulations of real life situations where patients can practice skills like shopping and getting in and out of cars and buses. With the help of Deaf Community Health Workers Anita Buel and Mary Edwards, Easy Street now houses the Deaf Immigrant Center for Education (DICE), funded by theHennepin Health Foundation.
HCMC patients, the Adult Bilingual Education program in St. Paul, as well as local high schools with deaf-centered curriculums come for education and safety training. An open house for this area will be held on Tuesday, January 18 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“At HCMC, our goal is to address ways to improve or positively impact the processes that are in place to develop new access strategies for deaf and hard of hearing people for Minnesota,” says Ellis. “We’re excited about these new changes and being able to more completely communicate with our patients and friends in the deaf and hard of hearing community.”