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Reaching out to the Arabic community

November 1, 2006
by RENÉE R. KESWICK and LaDON G. McNEIL
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A CMHC takes steps to better reach and serve Arab-Americans

The 2000 Census indicated that 48% of the U.S. Arabic population lived in five states: California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. In Michigan, Wayne County reported that 2.7% of its population identified as being of Arabic descent, and Macomb, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties each reported 1.2%. Although Genesee County's reported Arabic population falls below the numbers of surrounding counties, the growing Arabic population in the area motivated Genesee County Community Mental Health (GCCMH) to offer education and outreach to the local Arabic population.

GCCMH developed a brochure explaining the agency's services in five languages: English, Spanish, French, German, and Arabic. These brochures were physically delivered (i.e., door to door) in ten census tracts in which more than 10% of the population did not speak English well or at all. Five of these tracts were in Flint, and five were in other areas of the county. Brochures also were placed in the two Arabic centers in the county.

Other brochures have been translated into Arabic, as well. One explains how to work with GCCMH's Customer Services on accessing services, addressing complaints and concerns, and making appointments. Another brochure explains privacy rights. All of these brochures are available online at http://www.gencmh.org, as is a statewide booklet in Arabic on the rights of individuals.

Brochures are distributed widely throughout the community, including governmental offices, places of worship, schools and colleges, and community centers. Customer Services returns to each location several times a year to ensure that brochure racks are not empty. GCCMH also distributes brochures at community health fairs, and in October GCCMH participated in a health fair with the American Arab Heritage Council.

In addition, GCCMH annually trains both directly operated and contractual staff on cultural competency, including on serving clients with limited English proficiency (LEP). Experts have been brought in to provide cultural competency training.

GCCMH also has developed a Diversity Day Training, in which employees and community groups set up booths with information about the culture and food of their ancestry. Staff visit each booth and are tested on what they learn about other cultures. Arabic culture has been featured in the past few years.

Customer Services staff "secret shops" all of GCCMH's programs, both directly operated and contractual. People with non-English language skills are hired to call or walk in to request services in their native language, testing whether the proper protocol is followed to get an interpreter on the phone or in person. Report cards are sent to program directors, detailing how staff performed.

GCCMH also surveys its provider network annually for those who either are from different cultures or have advanced education or experience with other cultures. Outreach and recruitment of culturally competent therapists continues based on community needs.

GCCMH's plan for upcoming years is to continue to reach out to various communities through brochure placement, health fairs, and advertising. We will continue to work with cultural centers and provide education at their community events. Finally, we will continue to work with our network of providers to offer culturally sensitive treatment for those who need mental health services.

Renée R. Keswick is the Manager for Training and Community Relations at Genesee County Community Mental Health (GCCMH) in Flint, Michigan.


LaDon G. McNeil is GCCMH's Customer Services Manager.

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For more information about the Arabic population in the United States, go to http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/c2kbr-23.pdf.

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