‘Accent reduction' class gains kudos for hospital

It's part of patient-centered care

"Accent reduction" classes at Swedish Covenant Hospital are giving employees who speak English as a second language the chance to improve their communication skills while helping the Chicago-based facility fulfill its commitment to providing patient-centered care, says Joanne Shearer, RN, MSN, director of educational programming.

Located in one of the most culturally diverse areas of Chicago, Swedish Covenant cares for a patient population that represents more than 40 different languages, and has a work force that reflects that diversity, she adds.

"We heard from focus group discussions with former patients and from physicians that it is difficult to understand some of our patient-care staff due to language pronunciation issues," Shearer says. "Out of that feedback, we decided to look into accent reduction classes."

The focus groups, she notes, are one of the things the hospital does, in part, because of its affiliation with Planetree, a nonprofit Derby, CT-based membership organization that promotes patient-centered care.

Truman College, a community college with which Swedish Covenant has partnered in the past to bring college credit courses onto the hospital campus, happened to have a class in accent reduction, Shearer says, and so the decision was made to offer it onsite.

"We asked for volunteers to take the class — it was not required and was free to employees — and we promoted it as a positive opportunity that would help them at work and outside work," she says. Hospital officials were aware, Shearer notes, that some employees might be reluctant to acknowledge their need for the class, and that approaching staff about taking the class might be uncomfortable for some managers.

"We wanted to be very sensitive to that, but it was more of a potential barrier than something that actually occurred," she says. "We just [addressed it] through communicating with managers, and then they approached the staff."

The 20-hour course was generally covered in 10 two-hour sessions, held between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Shearer says. While several different foreign languages were represented — the most common being Spanish, Korean, and Russian — the instruction was customized to take that into account, she adds.

"The trainer was good at helping a person with, say, a Korean background, on things to work on [specific to] that language," Shearer says. "There were 10 to 15 people in each class, and they will take 20 at the most. There is a fair amount of individual work with the students."

Based on an assessment tool with a scoring range of 1-24, there was an average change in score (improvement in pronunciation) of +5, with the greatest increase in score by a participant being +12, she says. The average pre-class score was 17, and the average post-class score was 22.

In recognition of the accent reduction class, Shearer notes, Swedish Covenant received the Planetree Best Practice Award in the category of human interaction.

Two courses were held in 2005, and plans were to continue the class in 2006, she says, possibly once each quarter.

Feedback from the first course helped generate interest — and gain volunteers — for the second, Shearer says. "We had some managers who participated, and that helped, because they talked about it when they went back to their areas."

[Editor's note: Joanne Shearer can be reached at (773) 878-8200, ext. 5687.]