Culturally Competent Care

by Amena Imran, FCO Health Policy Research Analyst

Canada is experiencing a double demographic trend; an aging population and an increasing immigrant population. As both of these demographics continue to rise, it is important to have services and institutions that are accessible, easy to use, and most importantly, culturally competent.

The long-term care sector has significant gaps in culturally sensitive and personalized care for immigrants that support language, religious and cultural identity. Personalized care can significantly increase a senior’s quality of life in a long-term care home, such as eating familiar foods and practising cultural traditions. This was noted by The Wellesley Institute “linguistic and ethnic-specific care services have positive impacts on residents’ physical and mental health such as reduced isolation, lower rates of depression, and fewer falls and hospitalizations.” Very minimal culturally focused long-term care homes exist across Ontario, and face significant barriers to access such as long wait times.

Barriers to accessible care were experienced by Gyan Nath who was in a long-term care home and did not adjust well. From an Indian background, Gyan had a difficult time transitioning to the facility as it was not culturally sensitive. As a vegetarian, the home only had foods like mashed potatoes and peas which made it undesirable to eat, which resulted in his wife, Jyan to cook and bring traditional cultural food every day such as rice and curries. With high expenses to the home, the facility was not providing Gyan personalized and satisfactory care.

The lack of care results in family members, significantly women, becoming essential caregivers which can result in burden and high stress. The Wellesley Institute also notes that while many policy documents discuss equity and diversity, none of them moves forward with any strategies or solutions for culturally competent seniors care. A reason for this could be language barriers, as many immigrant seniors or their families are unable to voice their concerns to those in power. Language barriers can also result in disadvantages to health, as it may be harder for seniors and caregivers to interact with care workers. Often times, caregivers have to be interpreters, which can add to their stress and emotional burden. Additionally, due to the lack of accessible long-term care homes, family members often have to quit their jobs to resume the care of their loved ones full time, which can result in financial implications.

The long-term care sector can implement strategies to make care more culturally competent, accessible and comfortable for diverse seniors across Ontario. Recommendations to the sector include:

  • Providing a variety of cultural and familiar foods for residents
  • Spaces for spiritual practices and rituals, having religious leaders come in for programming
  • Increased number of language interpreters and care workers who speak the same language as residents
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