U.S. hospitals compete for aff luent immigrant patients

By Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) – When it comes to ordering meals at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, immigrant patients can choose from dishes similar to those they might eat at home, including dumplings or noodles for Asian palates, and curry to accommodate Indian tastes.

These and other choices at medical facilities across the United States reflect intense competition to attract one of health care’s most desirable demographics — affluent, foreign-born patients with generous insurance coverage or cash to pay out of pocket.

The menu is just part of the outreach. The Houston hospital also has redecorated patient rooms, subscribed to foreign-language TV channels, and even changed the color of hospital paperwork to reflect cultural preferences.

Hospitals “are recognizing that they have to begin to gear their services and products toward more minority populations,” said Rick DeFilippi, chairman of the board for the Institute for Diversity in Health Management.

The effort to cater to minority and immigrant groups began decades ago in inner-city hospitals, but it’s now becoming crucial to private institutions’ quest for paying customers. Immigrants from China, Vietnam, and India have median household incomes above the national average of about $51,300 — with immigrants from India earning more than double, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Memorial Hermann began its initiative in 2009 by reaching out to Vietnamese and Chinese patients, for whom language was a major barrier.

The program was so successful that it was expanded to include South Asian patients, many from India and Pakistan. A new menu includes four types of curry, and the hospital now allows for the kind of large family gatherings many U.S. hospitals frown on.

The American Hospital Association believes such programs are key. It has set three goals for 2020 that include pushing hospitals nationwide to hold cultural sensitivity training for all employees and collecting data on illness and ethnicity to tailor medical care. The group also wants to ensure hospital administrations and boards better reflect populations they serve, DeFilippi said.

The changes mean that patients such as Tan Nguyen, a 60-year-old Houston man originally from Saigon, can recover from heart surgery while watching a Vietnamese news channel. He eyes the menu of dumplings and fried rice, and exclaims, “I love it.” (end)

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