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Sharp Health News

Caring for San Diego’s Chaldean community

Feb. 7, 2019

Caring for San Diego’s Chaldean community

“Knowing that your language, culture and beliefs are being considered brings some comfort during what can be a vulnerable and scary time for many patients,” says Sara Shayya, a registered nurse at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Providing extraordinary care starts with understanding and meeting the needs of patients from diverse backgrounds. It enables providers to deliver services that are both respectful of and responsive to patients’ beliefs, practices and cultural preferences.

Providing culturally sensitive care improves patient engagement and education, and helps eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in care. It also increases mutual respect and understanding between patient and provider.

“Acknowledging and adapting to the cultural needs of patients helps nurses establish better rapport with them,” explains Sara Shayya, a registered nurse at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Improved levels of communication can be a critical factor in assessing patient needs and in developing appropriate treatments and interventions. It also plays a major role in patient satisfaction.”

Considering Chaldean culture in providing care
To understand how cultural competence affects patient and family care, consider the example of Chaldean Americans. Tens of thousands of Chaldeans reside in San Diego’s East County, the primary community served by Sharp Grossmont Hospital. El Cajon is believed to have the second largest number of Chaldeans in the United States after Detroit.

According to Shayya, a member of the Chaldean community, providing culturally sensitive care includes considering the amount of personal space and distance needed to feel comfortable, eye contact, attitudes related to time, the use of touch, observance of civil and religious holidays, the cultural meaning of food, tone of language, and family roles and involvement.

Originating from Iraq, Chaldeans are first and foremost devout Catholics. Because religion is such an important part of their life, they may want someone from the spiritual care center to visit during their hospital stay. They also may bless those providing their care, wear rosary beads or keep religious pictures in their rooms. Hospice care and code status — the level of medical interventions a patient wishes to have started if their heart or breathing stops — can be difficult topics to discuss with Chaldeans, as their religious belief is that the human body should pass on its own.

Chaldeans speak Aramaic, but many also know Arabic, Iraq’s predominant language. Many of them are trilingual, also speaking English. Families are typically very large and close-knit, so it is important to involve them in care and to have extra seating available in the hospital room for frequent visitors.

Shayya offers some considerations for caring for patients of Chaldean descent:

  • They tend to speak louder — which some may perceive as emotionally charged or upset — but this is just a normal tone of voice.
  • Out of gratitude, they may offer candy and baklava at bedside to their nurses, doctors and other care providers. It is their heartfelt way of saying thank you.
  • Women may prefer the same gender health care worker and might feel embarrassed with a male doctor, nurse or nurse assistant.
  • Chaldeans tend to love hot tea, which they call chi, and prefer rice and bread with meals (if appropriate with their diet restrictions while staying in the hospital).

Commitment to culturally sensitive care
Sharp HealthCare is committed to providing care to patients in their preferred language. When admitted, patients are asked if they prefer to receive written and verbal communication in a language other than English. Doctors and nurses have access to interpreters 24 hours a day, seven days a week via tablets to communicate with patients in any language at their bedside. Sharp hospitals also offer educational and instructional materials written in different languages, including Spanish and Arabic.

“When I meet a Chaldean patient and I speak to them in Aramaic or Arabic, I can see the light of relief in their eyes and can hear it in their tone of voice,” says Shayya. “I’m sure it is the same for any other culture. Knowing that your language, culture and beliefs are being considered brings some comfort during what can be a vulnerable and scary time for many patients.”

For the news media: To talk with Sara Shayya about culturally sensitive care for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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