Updated government guidelines may help with diverse resident populations

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The Department of Health and Human Services has updated its national standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), providing an enhanced tool for long-term care providers serving increasingly diverse populations.

The CLAS Standards were introduced in 2000 as part of an effort to reduce healthcare disparities among different groups of people defined by characteristics such as race, disability status, native language and sexual orientation. The updated standards, released Wednesday, aim to address changing demographic trends. Some studies — such as a 2011 report from Brown University — indicate that long-term care providers are grappling with these trends, seeing significant increases in black, Hispanic and Asian residents.

Enhancements to the CLAS Standards include a broader definition of “culture.” The standards state, “There is considerable recognition that every patient provider interaction is a cross-cultural interaction and that the scope of cultural competency in healthcare should expand to address multiple markers of difference.” Age is one of these markers of difference, which also include cognitive ability or limitations, generation and linguistic characteristics.

Other updates include revised terminology, such as the substitution of “individuals and groups” in place of “patients and consumers.” The new standards also include an introductory Statement of Intent, as requested by public comment.

The new standards will help providers avoid malpractice litigation by helping cut down on miscommunication, and will also help providers adhere to new laws and regulations, according to HHS. Certain Affordable Care Act provisions call for culturally- and linguistically-appropriate healthcare, and states such as California, Ohio and New York have passed or are considering laws requiring “cultural competence training” for providers.

The full standards are available here.