Seeking better care for Spanish speakers
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center neurologist Dr. Albert Galaburda is determined to make winning Harvard Medical School's Harold Amos Faculty Diversity Award a way of raising awareness about the need to expand services to the Spanish-speaking population.
"This prize is important because we can let people know there is a need here that has to be filled," Galaburda says. "Otherwise, this is just an exercise in self-congratulation."
The need that he and his colleagues in Cognitive Neurology Unit have been successfully fulfilling for the past five years is offering services through the Latino Mental Health Program. The program serves Spanish-speaking patients with cognitive and emotional problems. Every person involved in the patients' care - from support staff to clinicians - speaks Spanish, ensuring that language is not a barrier to treatment.
"This is a dedicated program and there is nothing like it in the rest of the hospital nor in any other hospital in Boston. The success of the program is the result of the work and dedication of a handful of highly committed psychiatrists and neurologists at the Division of Cognitive Neurology in the Department of Neurology," Galaburda says. "I have a suspicion this was the reason I was nominated for the award. It makes me feel good because I have won awards before for academics and research, but never for community service."
The Harold Amos Diversity Award is given annually to HMS staff who have made significant achievements in moving Harvard toward being a more diverse and inclusive community. Galaburda said the creation of the Latino Mental Health Program not only ensures patients are receiving treatment in their native language, but also gives Latino men and women a place to go for care of an illness that is stigmatized in their culture.
"Mental health issues are tough for Latino patients because in the culture, mental health disorders are discriminated against," says Galaburda, a native of Chile. "For example, a person with Alzheimer's is said to have gone crazy. There is a real stigma and fear associated with mental health. We are sympathetic to the plight of all people in need, but particularly this group because of the language and cultural barriers."
Through winning this award and drawing attention to the work being done for Latino patients in the Cognitive Neurology Unit, Galaburda is hopeful that BIDMC and other hospitals in the Harvard system will expand services to Spanish-speakers.
"There are certainly a lot of patients who speak only Spanish that we can serve better," he says.