December 19, 2008

AHEC Fort Smith Wins Statewide Cultural Competency Award

Don Heard, Ed.D., Director of AHEC Fort Smith

Chris Dickens

Angelina Levitskaya

Dec. 8, 2008 | The UAMS Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Fort Smith has earned a statewide award for its comprehensive approach to improving communication with Hispanic and other patients who speak little or no English.

The Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care recently presented AHEC Fort Smith with the Cultural Competency Award, which recognizes the AHEC for its leadership and staff development in providing culturally competent care to its diverse patient population. Hispanic patients at AHEC Fort Smith now account for 15 percent to 18 percent of total patients, said Don Heard, Ed.D., director of AHEC Fort Smith.

A grant in 2005 allowed the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences AHEC to hire Chris Dickens as its primary interpreter and coordinator of its Medical Interpreter Program. Dickens developed and implemented its current Medical Interpreter Program and Cultural Diversity in the Workplace Program at the AHEC Fort Smith Family Medical Clinic. The clinic now boasts 11 bilingual employees, with nine of them trained and certified through the UAMS Regional Program’s Medical Interpreter Training Program directed by Angelina Levitskaya.

In addition, Dickens is developing a cultural competency curriculum for the AHEC’s nurses, family medicine residents and even health care professionals in the community. Cultural competency entails more than simple language interpretation; it also means understanding and being sensitive to differing cultural attitudes about health care.

“When someone comes into our clinic with limited English proficiency, we can communicate with that patient very well,” Heard said. “When the patient and doctor communicate clearly, then quality health care can occur. We’re very proud of this award, which acknowledges our accomplishments in cultural competency.”