Oakwood director honored for efforts to break language barrier

At Oakwood Healthcare, efforts to eliminate health disparities and language barriers have helped ensure patient safety and provide consistent, high-quality healthcare to all—and have been recognized as a model of innovation across the nation.

Those efforts have been a passion of Mohamad ‘Moe’ Rustom, director of clinical language services for Oakwood Healthcare, and have brought numerous awards to Rustom and the metro-Detroit healthcare system. Most recently, Rustom was honored with the Raquel Cashman Language Access Award, which is presented by the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) to those who make a significant contribution in improving Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients’ access health services and reducing racial and ethnic disparities.

“Mr. Rustom’s work has lifted the overall quality of healthcare, reduced racial and ethnic disparities and provided models for national reform,” said Lola Bendana, IMIA president.

Rustom’s endeavors to reduce the language barrier have been numerous and nearly as diverse as the 35 communities served by the Oakwood Healthcare System. Capitalizing on his own cultural competency, cultural sensitivity and knowledge of the healthcare system, he started to change the attitudes toward healthcare and dismantle the idea of one-size-fits-all healthcare delivery. He was put in charge of the Clinical Language Services department after it was established by a grant from the Masco Corporation in 2005. Oakwood now provides medically certified Arabic and Spanish interpreters on-site, three-way interpreter telephone service in more than 140 languages, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to meet the needs of the deaf and hearing impaired population, and a wide pool of qualified bilingual staff.

The program also provides for translation of healthcare documents to meet the needs of four acute-care hospitals, 38 ambulatory sites, more than 9,000 employees and 1,100 physicians. Rustom was also instrumental in obtaining the Aligning Forces for Language Quality Improvement grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, too. He started the Race, Ethnicity and Language (REL) Campaign to collect that data on admission to best serve the patients.

Rustom is a member on two subcommittees formed by the Greater Detroit Area Health Council (GDAHC) to address healthcare disparities in the southeast Michigan area. Mr. Rustom serves on the OHS patient Rights Committee, Clinical Ethics Committee, Diversity Council and the Great Detroit Area Health Council, as well.

Rustom’s relentless efforts in advocating for patients’ right to language access and equitable and safe healthcare has earned him the 2010 Diversity Business Leader Award, and the Building Michigan’s Healthcare Workforce Award for cultural competency and Diversity. His efforts have also earned Oakwood the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for reducing language barriers in healthcare while improving quality and safety for the limited English Proficiency Patients.

Rustom said he was humbled by the award and grateful for the opportunity to work in a field that has allowed him to follow his passions and improve the access to quality health care for all.

“It’s doing the right thing,” he said. “We have a diverse patient population that deserves the best in care. We need to respond to the community.”