Photo of TLC nurses Nurses in the TLC program are, bottom, left to right, Hilda Curry and Lourdes Menendez; and top, Larisa Kuzmenko and Bo Vang-Yang. (Oleg Teleten was unavailable for photograph.)

A new, novel program that provides a group of nurses whose sole duties involve helping patients with limited English navigate their way around UC Davis Medical Center has received enthusiastic praise from patients, doctors and nurses.

The Transcultural Linguistic Care Nurse Program, launched last December, consists of five nurses who are fluent in the top three non-English languages spoken by patients at the medical center: Spanish, Russian and Hmong. Collectively, they work with an average of 10 patients a day, beginning with the admissions process. However, their work does not end there. The nurses remain in contact with the patients throughout their hospital stay, including discharge.

“We're the only hospital in the nation, that I know of, which has a program like this,” said Aida Calpo, manager of the Patient Care Resource Department. “The demand is certainly there.”

Sacramento's ethnic diversity

When Time magazine identified Sacramento in 2002 as “America's Most Diverse City,” Calpo regarded the accompanying story as further evidence of the need for nurses at UC Davis Medical Center whose sole duties revolve around helping patients with limited English make their way around the medical center.

“When I read that story, it reinforced to me that we admit patients of diversity and had not focused on making them more welcome in our organization,” said Calpo. To address the needs of these patients, Calpo thought that the medical center should assemble a group of bilingual nurses dedicated exclusively to aiding patients whose primary language is not English.

Photo of nurse Hilda Curry assisting mother and newborn TLC nurse Hilda Curry assists with lactation instruction for a spanish-speaking mother with her newborn.

The nurses in the TLC program are Hilda Curry, Larisa Kuzmenko, Lourdes Menendez, Oleg Teleten and Bo Vang-Yang. The purpose of the TLC program is to complement UC Davis Health System's Interpreting Services program.

“Our intent is not to replace Interpreting Services,” Calpo said. “It's a combined effort. Our nurses can explain in more detail the complicated medical reasons behind doctors' instructions. You have to have a medical background to explain certain anatomical aspects, for example.”

In addition, Calpo said, the demands on the Interpreting Services program routinely exceed the number of interpreters available at any given time.

Helping the patient in their own language

Patients appreciate the extra help provided by the TLC nurses, Calpo said.

“These patients cannot understand what's going on or make their needs known,” said Larisa Kuzmenko, who speaks Russian. “They don't know what's happening, and they're just happy to see someone who can help out.”

Bo Vang-Yang, a TLC nurse who helps Hmong patients, said, “Their eyes light up when they see someone who can speak their language.”

The assistance provided by TLC nurses not only helps and soothes patients, it helps doctors and nurses to do their jobs more easily, said Lourdes Menendez, who speaks Spanish.

“I can help doctors get a more thorough and accurate evaluation of their patients,” Menendez said. She and the other TLC nurses do not limit their involvement with patients to the admission and discharge process. They follow the patients through the course of their stay at the hospital, including the crucial instructions for follow-up care after discharge.

Photo of TLC nurse with patient TLC nurse Lourdes Menendez, right, provides instructions in Spanish to patient on the care of her newborn baby.

Bobbie Seyman, nurse manager of the neurology/neurosurgery/PM&R unit, said, “This is probably one of the best programs that has been developed at this institution. The TLC nurses are some of the best I have ever worked with. They identify problems, bring them to the attention of the medical staff and help solve them.”

A Hmong patient's experience several weeks ago illustrated the value of the TLC program. His doctors and nurses considered him non-compliant because for three days, he had refused to take his medications. His behavior also resulted in him failing a swallowing test on those days.

When Vang-Yang talked about this conduct with the patient, she learned that he preferred to take his medications after meals, and with hot water or tea. He had been declining to take his medications because they had been brought to him before he had eaten, and because he was given ice water with which to take them.

The appreciation and gratitude expressed by patients and their families is an especially rewarding fringe benefit of working as a TLC nurse.

“I had a family come in, hug me and say, 'God bless you,'” said Menendez. “That's what means the most to me.”

TLC nurses work closely with the nursing supervisor and Bed Control, and make daily rounds to determine what areas need assistance during any given day. During periods of high census, the TLC nurses also assist in the admission and discharge of English-speaking patients. They are available Monday through Friday with variable hours of operation.