St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston opens new Latino Health Center for Spanish speaking patients

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – St. Joseph Medical Center in downtown Houston aims to accommodate the Latino patient population and cut down on a national problem with non-English speaking patients facing higher rates of hospital readmissions.

The groundbreaking new Latino Health Center of Excellence unit (LHCE), offers culturally responsive care for the hospital’s Latino patients. This goes beyond the requirements for language translators because, in addition to a fully bilingual staff, the LHCE also offers a dietary menu that reflects the Hispanic culture and access to TV programming in Spanish.

“You can convey your messages or your feelings in your own native language easier,” Dr. Javier Canon said while explaining how connecting with patients is just as important as speaking the language. “It’s the body language, it’s the cultural part, it’s being in tune with their emotions and their fears.”

Lorena Gauna was in the hospital with her mother while KPRC2 was there, and she said in Spanish how much more comfortable she is leaving her mother’s side because she knows the staff will easily be able to converse with her.

“I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to tell the nurse in English, now I can call the nurses and explain to them the situation in Spanish and they will reply back in Spanish,” Gauna said.

According to the director of LHCE, Rennie Rogers, their goal is to eliminate miscommunications, which can lead to readmission to the hospital.

“It’s not only in the recovery, but it’s also them going home and understanding the follow-up instructions or medication regimen,” Rogers said. “It goes back to the ability for the nurse to be able to do everything she does in English, including education and discharge, in Spanish.”

Patients who self-identify as “Spanish-speaking preferred” on hospital paperwork can opt into the dedicated medical and surgical unit. Although, Rogers admits many patients are skeptical of the idea.

“Are you sure is it the same level of care? It’s the same thing except the walls are blue and people speak Spanish,” Rogers said.

Patients who do not transfer to the LHCE will still have access to the Interpreter Services Department that provides 24/7 medical interpreters, which provides translators in all languages. However, Rogers wants more patients to understand that by breaking down the language barrier, the staff and the patients can work to foster better communication and focus on healing.

“We need people to know what we’re doing. Estamos aquí para ustedes. We’re here for you,” Rogers said.