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HHS issues culturally sensitive care standards


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released enhanced national standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in health and healthcare, a blueprint to help organizations improve the quality of healthcare available to diverse communities.

The enhanced standards, developed by the HHS Office of Minority Health, are a comprehensive update of the 2000 national CLAS standards and include the expertise of federal and non-federal partners nationwide to ensure an even stronger platform for health equity. The enhanced standards are grounded in a broad definition of culture in which health is recognized as being influenced by factors ranging from race and ethnicity to language, spirituality, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity and geography.

Long-existing inequities in health and healthcare have come at a steep cost not only for minority communities, but also for the nation, according to an HHS news release. As cited in a recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the burden of insufficient and inequitable care related to racial and ethnic health disparities has been estimated to top $1 trillion.

“Disparities have prevented improved outcomes in our health and healthcare system for far too long,” Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for health, said in the news release. “The enhanced CLAS standards provide a platform for all persons to reach their full health potential.”

Specifically, the enhanced standards provide a framework to health and healthcare organizations for the delivery of culturally respectful and linguistically responsive care and services. By adopting the framework, health and human services professionals will be better able to meet the needs of all individuals at all points of contact, according to the news release.

Among the standards: “Offer language assistance to individuals who have limited English proficiency and/or other communication needs, at no cost to them, to facilitate timely access to all healthcare and services”; “Inform all individuals of the availability of language assistance services clearly and in their preferred language, verbally and in writing”; “Ensure the competence of individuals providing language assistance, recognizing that the use of untrained individuals and/or minors as interpreters should be avoided”; “Provide easy-to-understand print and multimedia materials and signage in the languages commonly used by populations in the service area.”

“Many Americans struggle to achieve good health because the healthcare and services that are available to them do not adequately address their needs,” said J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, deputy assistant secretary for minority health and director of the HHS Office of Minority Health. “As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, improving cultural and linguistic competency across public health and our healthcare system can be one of our most power levers for advancing health equity.”

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