Given that culture and language are factors that affect health and healthcare, rural communities must develop culturally-competent services integration programs. Cultural competency is defined as:
- The capacity for people to increase their knowledge and understanding of cultural differences
- The ability to acknowledge cultural assumptions and biases
- The willingness to make changes in thought and behavior to address those biases
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health developed the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care (CLAS Standards) to help healthcare organizations and staff develop programs that are appropriate for different languages, cultures, and populations.
Services integration programs should be designed to be culturally and linguistically appropriate and meet the needs of different populations, for example health literacy. Some of the ways that the CLAS Standards may be used by rural services integration programs to address the cultural and linguistic needs of diverse populations include:
- Addressing any cultural, language, and communications barriers in the program.
- Providing an environment in which people from diverse cultural backgrounds feel comfortable discussing their cultural health beliefs and practices in the context of negotiating treatment options.
- Using community health workers to reduce barriers to care for different populations.
- Being familiar with and respectful of different beliefs and, where appropriate, integrating these approaches into treatment plans.