When Good Samaritan Hospital opens up its newest ward this fall, it won't be distinguished by the latest whiz bang medical technology or high-end specialty service.
Rather, the hospital is counting on touches such as Hanji rice wallpaper and traditional Yun kite decorations to create a serene Korean setting. Meals will feature generous servings of rice, seaweed soup and kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage that is the Korean national dish.
"I thought this would be a tremendous opportunity to develop real specialized services," said hospital chief executive Andrew Leeka. "We want the Korean community to consider this their hospital."
Good Samaritan, which is spending at least $750,000 on the eight-bed unit, is on a growing list of local hospitals that are targeting the region's Korean population.
A Korean ward has been expanded at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, which was bought by a Korean doctor last year. St. Vincent Medical Center, which opened a 15-bed Korean Pavilion in 1997, has since expanded it to 32 beds.
The wards not only features Korean decorations and food but culturally sensitive care, often provided by ethnic Korean nurses and doctors who speak the language.
The programs are part of a larger movement developed over the past several years in response to studies documenting that cultural insensitivity leads to poorer care for minority patients.
"Bad medical outcomes can come from misunderstanding, and from patients not feeling comfortable about where they are being treated," said Dr. Luis Guevara, who heads a cross-cultural training program for medical residents at White Memorial Medical Center, which serves a large Hispanic population in Boyle Heights.
Good Samaritan hired Koreatown architect Christopher Pak's Archeon International Group to design the rooms. Looking for advice on how to strengthen ties with the community, Leeka enlisted advisors such as George Chey, chairman of Pan International Realty Inc. and a founder of Koreatown's commercial district in the early 1970s.
Besides creating atmosphere more like a traditional Korean home, the revamped ward at 408-bed Good Samaritan will feature an on-call Korean-speaking patient liaison, additional translation services available by phone, Korean-language publications and television. The services are offered now, but not in one place.
As much as possible, care will be provided by Korean doctors and nurses, although the initial size of the facility will be modest (two beds set to open next month on the fifth floor with another six ready by early next year).
Like some other ethnic groups, many native Koreans are not used to the fast pace of American medicine, which often allows doctors little time with their patients.
Al Green, chief executive of Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, said that having a dedicated Korean ward also offers many practical benefits. "It makes more sense to keep our Korean patients together in one area," he said.
Good Samaritan has keen competition from St. Vincent and Hollywood Presbyterian for Korean patients.
Koreans are St. Vincent's largest cultural population, with 40 to 50 patients of Korean descent, many of them elderly, among the inpatient population on a typical day.
In addition to Korean menu choices, the hospital has a policy of accommodating families who bring in a homemade dish for a recovering loved one. "You want to make their experience here as healing and homey as possible," said Toni Shewell, vice president for services and community benefits.
At Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, the Korean Care Center has expanded from 12 to 30 beds. Meanwhile, the Korean chef hired to run the kitchen serves a signature seaweed soup recipe from the mother of the hospital's owner, Dr. Kwang Yul Cha. It's considered a tonic for new mothers and is also served at Cha's four hospitals in South Korea.
Dr. Seok Suh Young, a veteran anesthesiologist who has worked at all three facilities, said there is no doubt that the hospitals are competing for Korean patients.
But he's not sure how much of a practical purpose the separate wards serve.
"Maybe we don't really need them," he said. "But it's a symbolic gesture."
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