We are on the verge of yet another transformative process in the field of cultural competency. On March 14 – 15, the JICC was invited to present its introductory cultural competency workshops to 70 senior managers from the Jerusalem Mental Health Center, at its annual management conference at the Dead Sea. This Mental Health Center includes hundreds of staff who are responsible for 300 hospital beds (active and extended stay departments) over 2 campuses (Kfar Shaul and Eitanim), Mental Health Centers in west and south Jerusalem, in Ma’ale Adumim, Mevasseret Zion and in Beit Shemesh. The Center also serves the Arabic-speaking population from East Jerusalem. The focus on cultural competency at the annual conference is a kickoff to the process of making the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health culturally competent. The Jerusalem Center was the first mental health center in Israel to commit, through the JICC help, to assimilate principles of cultural competency throughout its system of care.
Mental health services are a special challenge for cultural competency, since most care is based on verbal communication. At the same time, it is important to note that public mental health services are required comply with the Ministry of Health directive (February 2011) on cultural competency, as other health care organizations. In this conference the issue was introduced to the senior management, including department directors, as well as those in key roles, before cultural competence is being assimilated in all departments. The spotlight given at the conference is the result of many meetings between the JICC and the Jerusalem Center administration, as well as with the Jerusalem Foundation, to explain its importance in psychological care.
Throughout the first day the participants told stories about intercultural challenges and events they had encountered. In addition, Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, JICC Director, presented a workshop on intercultural communication and cultural dimensions and how awareness of this subject influences mental healthcare.
During the second day the participants were exposed to the importance of professional interpreting in therapy sessions, and shared examples, from Israel and around the world, of therapy being compromised because of language barriers. Senior staff understood the need and seemed willing to change the existing situation (which today uses non-professional and unskilled interpreters) to make the services more accessible. The day included a fascinating discussion about the boundaries of multiculturalism (“How much should I give up my professional and personal values in order to adapt the therapy session to the patient that comes from a culture that is entirely different than mine?”).
It was obvious that the 2 days of the conference were a first taste, and that this will be a long process that will require close cooperation between the JICC and the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health. The process will include training the medical and administrative staff in CC skills, and training bilingual staff in a medical interpretation, as has been done in other Jerusalem hospitals (Bikur Holim, Alyn, Hadassah) and HMOs. We believe that the products of this lengthy process can be a prototype for similar accessibility processes in other mental health centers around Israel.