The Chinese Health Initiative aims to expand the number of Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking doctors in the hospital's physician network, increase awareness about health disparities in the local Chinese community, and "build more capacity around cultural sensitivity," according to Cecile Currier, vice president of corporate and community health services at El Camino.
Chinese patients account for 23 percent of El Camino's caseload, according to hospital statistics.
"We really want to be seen in our region as the hospital of choice for the Chinese community," Currier said.
El Camino officials intend to nearly double the number of doctors in its physician referral network who speak a Chinese language. Right now, Currier said, there are 51; the goal is to get to 100.
The hospital will also partner with "a whole range of Chinese organizations," Currier said — probing the groups for ideas on how to improve service to the Chinese community and using them as conduits to help spread information about diseases and conditions that Chinese people experience at much higher rates than the rest of the Silicon Valley population.
One such disease is chronic hepatitis B. Often called a "silent killer," people are often born with the disease and don't find out they have it until they are adults. Hepatitis B slowly but surely eats away at a person's liver. If not treated early, it can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The disease is found in about 1 percent of the U.S. population at large, but impacts 10 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders, Currier said. Without treatment, 25 percent of those with the disease will die from liver failure or liver cancer.
Stroke, hypertension, stomach cancer and lung cancer are also found in Asian and Pacific Islander populations in much higher rates than in the population as a whole, Currier said.
The Chinese Health Initiative is about reaching a historically underserved demographic, according to Dr. Peter Fung, medical director of the El Camino Hospital Stroke Center and a member of the initiative's advisory board.
"While the majority of Chinese-speaking residents in El Camino Hospital's service area have health insurance, they lack access to culturally appropriate and language-specific providers," Fung said in an official release about the initiative. "This often creates obstacles to their ability to seek needed preventive care, diagnosis and treatment."
Sometimes these obstacles are very apparent, Currier said. If someone cannot communicate with a doctor because of a language barrier, for instance, that is an obvious issue. However, simply sending a patient to a doctor who speaks their native language may not be enough.
"With every ethnic group there are certain ways people like to be cared for and certain things they want when they are in a hospital," she said. El Camino is doing its best to oblige the Chinese community in ways both ethereal and everyday.
Staff is being trained to approach end-of-life care with consideration to Chinese cultural norms, and volunteers representing a wide variety of Eastern spiritual traditions are a part of the initiative.
There are Chinese channels on hospital TVs and "another simple thing that was very important to people" has been added to the menus at El Camino — rice porridge. "It's kind of like chicken noodle soup would be to Caucasians," Currier said. "It's very comforting and soothing."
There are more than 362,000 Asians living in Silicon Valley, according to the hospital's estimates — a number that is expected to reach 420,000 by 2014. By getting the cultural nuances right and actively reaching out to the local Chinese community, Currier hopes the initiative will draw patients who otherwise may not have sought treatment and improve the care for those already coming to El Camino.