The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the enhanced National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards April 24 in Washington, D.C., updating guidelines that were previously released by the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) in 2000. The National CLAS Standards provide a blueprint for organizations around the country to further serve diverse communities, by reducing disparities and improving health care quality.
Leadership from across HHS joined prominent leaders in the health and health care industries to launch the standards at briefing at Kaiser Family Foundation, and later met with community stakeholders from across the nation via a conference call to discuss the enhanced standards and their far-reaching impact.
"We believe CLAS, coupled with the Affordable Care Act, represents an unprecedented opportunity for millions of Americans," said Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS. "Care needs to honor culture. Care needs to be effective, understandable, measurable and respectful. In short, health care must be delivered with CLAS."
Long-existing inequities in health and health care have come at a steep cost — not only for minority communities, but also for our nation. As cited in a recent report from the HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the burden of insufficient and inequitable care related to racial and ethnic health disparities has been estimated to top $1 trillion.
The National CLAS Standards were updated to better reflect the changing demographics of the nation and updated policies. The review process incorporated feedback and comments from stakeholders and community partners across the country and led to the inclusion of additional topics, such as religion, disability status, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and a focus on organizational leadership.
"For too long, too many Americans have struggled to achieve good health because the health care and services available to them did not adequately address their needs," said J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Director of OMH. "Health disparities not only burden communities of color, they also exact a tremendous cost on our country as a whole, whether that"s measured in economic terms, or considered in the context of the American promise of equality and opportunity."
Representatives from the American Hospital Association, Texas Health Institute and the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University, who were instrumental in the development and enhancement of the National CLAS Standards, took part in the launch events. Panelists included Koh; Gracia; Dennis Andrulis, PhD, Senior Research Scientist at the Texas Health Institute; Tawara Goode, MA, Director of the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown; Richard J. Umbdenstock, FACHE, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Hospital Association; Leon Rodriguez, JD, Director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights; and Mayra Alvarez, MHA, Director of Public Health Policy at the HHS Office of Health Reform. The launch of the Enhanced CLAS standards also was supported by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
As a daughter of immigrants and a pediatrician, Gracia relayed how her own personal experience led her to understand how health care that is responsive to a person"s culture leads to better health outcomes.
"In the face of changing demographics and a health care system undergoing unprecedented transformation," Gracia said, "cultural and linguistic competency may just be one of our most powerful levers for advancing health equity and improving care for all Americans."