Maple City's Cross Cultural Board
Two Languages, One Meeting
Goshen, Indiana – At Maple City Health Care Center, some of the people on the Board of Directors speak only English. Other people speak only Spanish.
As strange as it seems, leaders of Maple City Health Care Center believe that the organization benefits from Board members who have trouble understanding each other.
The experiment began a year ago. Prior to the experiment, the Center’s Board included ethnic Hispanics, but only Hispanics who were able to speak English as well as Spanish. The experiment was to include people who speak only one language.
Sanjuana Trillo is a member of the Board. “Because Maple City Health Care Center helps so many people who speak Spanish, we want people from Spanish speaking cultures on the Board.”
During the Board meetings, an interpreter translates everything that anyone says.
Miguel Millan has served on the Board for three years. He believes the experiment as proved successful. “Interpreting everything takes longer, but people listen better. The best thing about our Board is that people from English and Spanish cultures learn to understand each other. At most Board meetings, someone will say, ‘Oh, okay, now I see.’”
Dan Liechty, a Board member for seven years, likes the new, slower pace of the meetings. “Because everything gets said twice, it gives us time to think. When our meetings were in only English, we often talked without thinking.”
Ms. Trillo adds, “Now we help each other understand our differences. We are more integrated.”
One major benefit of two languages is that Spanish speaking people on the Board help the staff understand the unique problems and points of view of Spanish speaking patients.
Maple City Health Care Center staff recently benefited from the bilingual Board when staff members became concerned that many of the Spanish speaking medical assistants were leaving to work in other medical facilities.
The Spanish speaking people on the Board helped the staff realize that most of the medical assistants need to earn as much as they possibly can. By moving to other health care providers, the Spanish speaking medical assistants are taking what they learn about community health care and spreading the ideas around the region. Board members encouraged the staff to expect that the good work will come back to bless everyone at Maple City Health Care Center.
Serving on a Board that mixes two cultures benefits everyone. “I’ve learned so much about my Hispanic neighbors,” claims Mr. Liechty, “and I think they’ve learned a lot about me and my culture.”
Mr. Millan agrees. “I love this community because it’s a safe and accepting. When my family and I first moved here, it took us at least a year to adjust. We wanted to learn how to fit in to a new culture. People in the schools and at Maple City Health Care Center helped us. Now, I’m no longer a Mexican, I’m a Goshenite.”
“I started at the Center as a patient,” Ms. Trillo says. “I remember one of the Spanish speaking women in my pregnancy group lost her baby. None of us, English or Spanish, knew what to do. Then some of us decided to go visit her. We hugged her and asked her to talk about how she felt. When she talked, we forgot about who was English and who was Spanish. We were all just mothers who shared the same fear and hope.”
“Many Spanish speaking people have lots of problems,” Ms. Trillo continues. “Because they can’t speak English, they can’t connect with people who can help them – people like counselors, lawyers, doctors and government workers. All immigrants should learn English and learn to fit into the culture, but while they are learning, they need places like Maple City Health Care Center.” One strategy that the Center’s Board uses to help English and Spanish people communicate is called the Circle Model.
“We literally sit in a circle,” Mr. Liechty says. “We go around the circle so that each person has a chance to contribute.”
“We use a talking stick, Mr. Millan explains. “The stick lies on the table. If you want to speak, you pick up the stick. Since only one person at a time can hold the stick, only one person can speak. We also have a little gate with a bell. If one or two people are talking too much, anyone can ring the bell. The people who are talking have to stop and listen.”
Beth Elmore, the Center's certified nurse midwife, introduced the Circle Model. Board members agree that the Circle Model can help any group of people. “The techniques support equal participation,” Mr. Millan concludes. “It puts our ideals into practice.”
Maple City Health Care Center’s ideals are to foster a healthy community by providing and promoting quality health care. Maple City Health Care Center provides affordable health care to people in the north, east, and central neighborhoods of Goshen. More than a third of the Center’s patients are below poverty level. Half of the patients and almost all of the staff speak Spanish.
In addition to the sliding fee payments of patients, the Center uses donations and grants to fund primary medical care and support groups. Sources of grants include the Goshen Health Systems Community Benefit Fund, the Community Health Center grant, and the Neighborhood Assistance Program. Maple City Health Care Center won the 2006 National Neigborworks Dorthy Richardson Award for leadership in community development.