TUESDAY MARCH 1, 2011
New Jersey is a model of diversity. The state’s residents hail from more than 100 nations, and the U.S. Census Bureau ranks the Garden State third in the nation in the percentage of foreign-born residents. In addition, the Pew Research Center reports that New Jersey is home to a half-million undocumented immigrants – the fifth-largest population in the nation.
The state Department of Health and Senior Services issued a report today on these newest New Jerseyans. We applaud Commissioner Poonam Alaigh and her team for taking on this very important effort. Before we can best serve our communities, we need to really know our communities. Data is key.
Hospitals all across the state delve deep into demographics and other data to ensure they’re providing the best, most culturally appropriate care to their unique communities. Here at NJHA, we provide leadership and support such as a statewide program to train more medical interpreters (with 200 “graduates” to date); outreach and educational materials in multiple languages and targeted quality improvement initiatives like Dulce New Jersey, a diabetes management program specifically geared toward African-American and Latino/Hispanic communities.
Our hospitals likewise have numerous programs in place to care for their diverse populations. Starting at registration, our intake workers ask patients about their ethnic background and primary language. People sometime don’t understand why we ask that, but hospitals must know their patients and their backgrounds. We use this information to identify disparities in healthcare services and outcomes, develop targeted programs for local populations and tailor our communications based on the different languages spoken by patients.
In addition, New Jersey hospitals play a vitally important role as the safety net for New Jersey’s large population of undocumented immigrants – again, a population that totals about a half-million people. Many of these individuals don’t have a so-called medical home – a physician’s office where they receive routine and preventive care. That leaves the hospital emergency department as their main source of healthcare services. Hospitals serve all patients who come through their doors – regardless of their legal status or their ability to pay. And most of the time, hospitals are forced to absorb the cost of that care, which reaches beyond $500 million annually.
New Jersey is wonderfully diverse, so caring for our residents’ healthcare needs is a complex challenge. But it’s a challenge we embrace, and we look forward to being an active partner with the state, with other healthcare providers and our many community- and faith-based groups to improve the health of all New Jerseyans.