One third of the patients who seek medical help at Boston Medical Center do not speak English. Half of them earn less than $17,000 a year, and 70 percent are minorities. A disproportionate percentage require some kind of assistance that is not available at most hospitals; almost all of them get what they need. BMC provides interpreters, available 24 hours a day, for more than 30 languages; offers legal help to ensure that children have safe housing; and has organized nutritional programs to help patients needing special diets with ethnic food. For those efforts and many others, BMC is being honored today with a national award from the American Hospital Association, when its past chairman, George Lynn, presents the medical center with the Carolyn Boone Lewis Living the Vision Award at an 11 a.m. ceremony in the center’s Menino Pavilion.
Established in 1998 and named after the former AHA chair and health-care leader, the Carolyn Boone Lewis Living the Vision Award recognizes institutions or individuals “living the AHA’s vision of a society of healthy communities where all individuals reach their highest potential for health.”
“It’s always nice to be honored nationally,” says Elaine Ullian, BMC president and CEO, who points out that the nomination process for the award is anonymous, and no hospital can nominate itself. “You know nothing about it,” Ullian says. “This came as a big surprise and quite an honor.”
How then did the AHA get the specifics? “It must have been a mystery shopper,” says Ullian.
AHA President Dick Davidson issued a statement praising BMC for addressing the challenges of serving a diverse community. “Every day, the women and men at Boston Medical Center help families from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions, treating each as a unique experience,” says Davidson. “This strong commitment to honoring diversity and taking health beyond broken bones and hospital walls speaks to the spirit of service that permeates everything BMC does.”
Boston Medical Center strives to meet the needs of the community in many ways, Ullian says, from simple things such as understanding that a patient having to take two buses to get to an appointment may be late, to more complex accommodations, such as arranging several kinds of care on the same day so a patient doesn’t have to sacrifice more than one day’s pay.
“What distinguishes BMC is that we have a single standard of care.” Ullian says. “We’ve created an environment where there is no shame in being poor. And accordingly, we try to reach out to people who are often invisible in society and treat them in a way we’d want our own family to be treated.”
These “cultural beliefs,” as Ullian calls them, make a difference because they are shared by everyone who works there. She hopes to emphasize this point, she says, by featuring employees as the speakers at today’s awards ceremony. Along with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01), those scheduled to speak include a BMC housekeeper, a nurse, an interpreter, and a cardiologist. Ullian reports that all of them declined help from the administration in preparing their remarks.
“I think it will be very powerful for other employees to hear their colleagues talk about their vision of BMC,” Ullian says.