Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Guest Spot: Disabilities Sensitivity is a Cultural Competence

I am writing in this blog to advocate one component of cultural competence. I am aware that there are some organizations in the Boston area who are hired to train mental health professionals and social service workers on multicultural sensitivity training. I attended one such training last year and though the information and presentation was excellent by "Families First," it did not provide any information on how to work with individuals with disabilities.

Mass Health can implement Disability sensitivity as one component of Cultural Competence. By coincidence, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts interviewed me two weeks ago about the need to include the above topic as a cultural competence for mental health professionals. It is also important that medical professionals also receive the same training in this area as well. Currently, Tufts University and I believe UMASS has patient-doctor trainings in which "hired" patients train doctors on how to interact with them and to understand their symptoms. I heard positive feedback from persons with disabilities who participate as patients in this training.

Mass Health can recommend that clinics/facilities that staff receive trainings similar to the Patient/Doctor model that is currently being used. The question is how to pay staff to attend such trainings. That is always the tricky part of the equation. For mental health professionals, CEUs can be awarded to going a training during a staff meeting or a special meeting time. But again, mental health clinicians do not get paid for mandated staff meetings. This issue of payment or compensation has to worked between Mass Health and the provider.

Why do medical and mental health professionals need to learn to be more culturally competent in this area?

1) The is a new population of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afganhistan who are newly disabled and will need both medical and mental health services. The current health insurance benefit for vets is not adequate to cover all their healthcare needs.
2) More and more persons with disabilities across the board are living in the community and not necessarily in institutions. Governor Patrick's plan for Long Term call for more funding to be used for community based services for individuals with psychiatric disabilities; developmental disabilities with physical disabilities to live in the community across the commonwealth.
3) Professionally and personally speaking, I heard numerous complaints from consumers and advocates with disabilities vent their frustrations on how their medical or mental health professional treated them for their symptoms. An example is when an individual goes to a health facility with a personal care attendant, the medical professional tends to talk to the PCA and not to the client. Another example is when a colleague of mine who is a wheelchair user told me how her mental health clinician told her to go fight her "revolution" during the last session. The revolution is about the barriers in the environment that prevent persons with disabilities from enjoying the same freedoms as their able-bodied counterparts. We both wondered if she would tell a person from a multicultural background the same information. I think not..

Robbin Miller

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