Cultural Competency: A Closer Look at San Diego’s Asian American Senior Population

July 12, 2013 - Paul Downey

The number of Asian seniors who benefit from our culturally competent services is growing. I am happy to announce that as of July 1, our Mandarin-speaking supportive services case manager Maggie will be available to serve our seniors full-time from Monday through Friday.

25% of the seniors we support at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center are Asian and of that, 14% are Chinese.

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(At Senior Community Centers’ Chinese New Year Celebration)

Working with culturally diverse seniors is very rewarding and can be challenging at the same time, especially when it comes to something as important as addressing healthcare needs that could prevent seniors from living healthy and independent lives.

According a recent cultural competency workshop by Yawen Li, PhD, Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work at San Diego State University, Asian health beliefs attribute illness to karma or curses. Combined with strong superstitions and putting a lot of power into alternative healing methods, Western medicine may be the very last resort to get help. While respecting the beliefs of Asian cultures, our support services team is ready help in a culturally competent way.

Since inception of the Chinese Outreach Program in 2011, our Mandarin-speaking case manager has conducted over 1,000 visits helping nearly 200 clients. The resolution rate for medical issues is over 90%. 

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(Maggie and a senior at the Gary & Mary West Senior Wellness Center)

Our success rate is in part due to our collaborative partnerships, ongoing cultural competency training and dedicated staff members like Maggie. The following list shows ways to bridge some of the cultural differences between Asian American traditions and Western habits:

  • Be aware of differences among Asian American ethnicities
  • Avoid using stereotypes as portrayed in US media
  • Be aware of non-verbal cues as Asian Americans can be very sensitive to non-verbal communication (lack of eye contact implies not being respectful or not paying attention)
  • Use a title instead of calling by direct name
  • Work closely with family members that were identified by the senior as  the representative of the family
  • Be considerate of the high respect for authority figures within extended family and that the behavior or achievements of one person reflects on the entire family
  • Be aware that mental illness is seen as having “a bad gene” and is highly stigmatized
  • Explain problems and treatment alternatives clearly and be ready to have recommendations
  • Make sure the senior and family members understand what you are trying to communicate; nodding heads may just signify paying respect rather than understanding
  • Western cultures focus on self-expression through language while eastern cultures focus on affect and non-verbal expression
  • Language may not accommodate all that the individual thinks and feels

We are happy to have Maggie on our team full-time to help bridge some of the cultural differences to help seniors in need live a healthy and independent life. Find out here how you can support the Chinese Outreach and Case Management Program.

Long-term Impact of Cutting Senior Nutrition Program Funding

March 14, 2013 - Paul Downey

The Administration estimates that as many as 4 million meals to older adults could be eliminated as a result of the sequester.  In San Diego County, over 100,000 meals will be cut and Senior Community Centers will loose funding for 32,000 meals.

These cuts are particularly devastating at a time when the need and demand for senior nutrition programs is growing at an unprecedented pace.  Local organizations who provide nutrition for seniors will soon be forced to take one or more of the following actions:

  • Eliminate or reduce meals;
  • Eliminate or reduce staff who serve older adults;
  • Reduce the quality of the meal; and/or
  • Reduce the number of delivery days.

These actions will cause enormous hardship to many older adults who need good nutrition to remain healthier, more independent and out of long-term care facilities.

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 A Senior Community Centers home-delivered meals driver is bringing lunch to one of our clients. With sequestration going forward, services like these may be drastically reduced nationwide.

Senior nutrition programs serve a distinct group of older adults who are often more isolated and in the greatest economic or social need.  Frequently, the meal that is provided is their only guaranteed source of nutrition each day.The long-term impact of cutting senior nutrition programs could be:

  • Older adults will end up in hospitals and or nursing homes due to health issues related to the failure to maintain a proper diet.
  • Hospital stays will add significant costs to Medicare and Medicaid at a time when efforts are being made to reduce these costs.

Join me in urging Congress to exempt senior nutrition programs from sequestration! We should be investing in these valuable nutrition programs as a means to avoid increasing federal expenditures, not cutting back on them when they are needed most.

Find all the tools you need for contacting your representatives here!

Impending Storm Calls for Bipartisan Leadership

January 24, 2013 - Paul Downey

Welcome to the new year as we continue our quest to put Seniors First. In recent months, we have all been so wrapped up in the struggling economy and now the slippery slope of the fiscal cliff that we have failed to pay attention to another looming storm on the horizon – the silver tsunami.

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Baby boomers (people born between the years 1946 and 1964) began turning 65 in 2011. In fact, 10,000 people turn 65 every day now. In 2000, there were 35 million senior citizens in this country. By 2030, there will be 72 million, which will represent 20 percent of the U.S. population. Without services and support in place, the long-term implications of the aging baby-boom population are daunting. […]

A bill was introduced a few months ago to reauthorize the Older Americans Act (OAA) by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Unfortunately, his bill – while excellent – received little attention and even less support from his colleagues in the U.S. Senate. In the House of Representatives, not one hearing has been held or piece of legislation been introduced. […]

There is no time like the present to get something done. With the ever-increasing senior population, the OAA is needed now more than ever. Nine million seniors currently rely on the OAA-funded programs for vital, life-sustaining needs. The program also saves taxpayer dollars by reducing health care expenditures, the number of nursing home placements and other expensive long-term care facilities. In fact, the programs require a relatively modest level of assistance (about 0.02 percent of federal discretionary spending), but often make the difference between healthy independent living and costly assisted living, nursing home placements or expensive hospital stays. […]

Call, write, email, tweet and Facebook our congressional delegation and U.S. senators and tell them to end the partisan games and get to work. There are thousands of acres of common ground when it comes to the OAA and helping vulnerable seniors. Let’s show our support for the older adults in our lives, be it grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts or uncles, and make our voices heard.

~The above material first appeared in the U-T San Diego on January 10, 2013 and the full article can be found here

Support Older Americans Act

March 29, 2012 - Paul Downey

Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders gathered 14 of his senate colleagues with thousands of advocates on capitol hill to call for reauthorization of Older Americans Act (OAA). The reauthorization is 2 years past-due and leadership in the house appears to not be taking up reauthorization. The Senate bill is the sole bill for reauthorization.

Originally enacted in 1965, the Older American Act (OAA) helps seniors remain independent in their homes and communities. OAA programs provide basic necessities such as meals, home-care, help coordinating long-term care, job training, legal services and protection from abuse and neglect in nursing homes. These programs save taxpayer dollars, by reducing health care expenditures and keeping people out of nursing homes and other expensive long-term care settings. Read more about OAA>>>

I support reauthorization, and ask that Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein join this movement to support reauthorization of Older Americans Act. Please join me in supporting this important bill, and email Senator Boxer (website email form) and Senator Feinstein (website email form).

To stay informed on OAA and other issues join Seniors First San Diego.

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