Hoag care catered to Asian Americans

Clinical ability alone doesn't cut it at Irvine hospital — staff also seek to connect with patients on a cultural level.

August 28, 2010|By Mike Reicher,
  • A new healing garden at Hoag Hospital in Irvine. Nature is an important element for healing in Asian culture.
A new healing garden at Hoag Hospital in Irvine. Nature… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

IRVINE — The poor nurse just thought she was bringing a refreshing dessert — a popsicle — to a new mother. She didn't expect the grandma, shocked, to stop her and intercept the treat.

While refreshing to many, the cold was taboo for Shu-Fen Chen.

After emigrating from Taiwan, Chen gave birth to her first child in a Los Angeles hospital. Her cultural beliefs say a new mother shouldn't touch anything cold for a month after birth, or she will suffer headaches later in life, she says.

Eventually, Chen moved to Irvine, home to one of the largest Chinese American populations in the nation and once home to Irvine Regional Hospital, where she had her second child. There, the nurse knew better.

"So many traditions people cannot believe," said Chen, the executive director of the South Coast Chinese Cultural Assn. in Irvine. "But some nurses just understand our culture."

As Hoag Hospital opens its Irvine campus on Wednesday, replacing Irvine Regional, administrators are hoping they have done enough to understand Irvine residents' cultural beliefs, traditions and language.


Since the 1950s, Hoag has served mostly white and increasingly Latino patients at its Newport Beach location: Newport is 90% white, the Census Bureau estimates. Now, the hospital is stepping into a community with nearly 40% Asians and a large Iranian population.

Hoag executives have planned a number of methods to please their future customers. The gestures, while subtle, represent new thinking for the conservative institution.

They range from creating feng-shui patient rooms to serving steamed rice for breakfast, and less-tangible gestures like respectfully presenting documents with two hands and speaking to patients with more formality.

"Health care's not just about your clinical ability. You've got to do it in a way that connects with patients," said Robert Braithwaite, Hoag Irvine's chief administrator. "That means understanding their cultural heritage and how they want you to communicate."

Experts say that families and patients certainly vary in their individual values and beliefs, but it can be very useful, if not imperative, to be aware of collective tradition.



The acculturation of Hoag evolved during dozens of meetings Braithwaite held with community groups. He and physicians met with the Irvine Evergreen Chinese Senior Assn.; NEDA, an Iranian Group; and non-ethnic groups such as the AARP. They listened to comments about hospital plans.

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