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Meeting Unique Cultural & Religious Patient Needs to Reduce Suffering

by Deirdre Mylod, PhD, Executive Director, Institute for Innovation | Jun 11, 2015

When people experience a health crisis, they often turn to their faith for comfort and support. For those who follow a religious tradition, this can both provide a sense of added strength as well as a continued normalcy in a life otherwise interrupted by a health issue.

But what if your health issue made it more difficult for you to participate in your religious traditions? And what if the process of seeking treatment created barriers for fulfilling your obligations? Not only would this compound the stress associated with your health condition, you might even put off seeking the treatment that you need.

At NewYork Presbyterian’s Westchester Division, the leadership team has worked to address this very issue for the Orthodox Jewish patients in their community and have improved patient care as a result.  Our latest Innovation Story highlights their journey.

For members of the Orthodox Jewish faith, there are numerous traditions and obligations that are incorporated into daily life.  Whether related to prayer, diet, or observations of the Sabbath, these are not merely activities but observances to fulfill God’s law.  For Orthodox patients who need inpatient behavioral health services, the traditional structure of care can make it more difficult to fulfill these religious obligations.  As a result, patients often delayed seeking treatment and, when admitted, families felt the need to vigilantly advocate for their family member’s needs.

To better meet the unique needs of this patient population, the Westchester Division worked to better understand the religious traditions of Orthodox patients and redesigned care to more effectively support them in the behavioral health setting. They built relationships with the Orthodox Jewish community which allowed for better partnership as well as enhanced training for staff regarding the cultural needs of this patient group. Care was redesigned to create a unit, The Horizon, which specializes in responding to the needs of patients from the Orthodox Jewish faith.

Now, many of the daily requirements and rituals are built into the way care is provided on The Horizon unit. Staff better understand and respect the significance of these activities. The Orthodox community has greater trust that their religious practices will be supported during inpatient care. And, families have less hesitation when bringing a family member for admission and know that religious needs will be addressed. Care is no longer a barrier to religious observances; it is designed so that patients can participate in and draw strength from their faith traditions.

To learn more, read: Innovation Story: Meeting Unique Cultural & Religious Patient Needs in a Behavioral Health Setting