Cultural Competency for Providers

The South Country Health Alliance definition of Cultural Competency was adapted from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Cultural Competency web page at (external site)

Culture influences an individual’s health and mental health beliefs, practices, behaviors and even the outcomes of interventions. Health behavior depends on how one understands the cause of illness. In mental health and medicine, research indicates that culturally appropriate service improves diagnostic accuracy, increases adherence to recommended treatment, and reduces inappropriate emergency room and hospital use.

Cultural competency is the ability and the will to respond to the unique needs of a member that arise from the member’s culture. Cultural competency is also the ability to use the member’s culture as a resource or tool to assist with the intervention and help meet their needs. This approach to serving others’ views, cultural values and traditions as strengths can play an important part in serving our members’ needs. Minnesota consists of many diverse populations and cultures, which are growing all the time, making it vital to develop culturally and linguistically competent providers capable of delivering culturally appropriate services.

Health care and mental health disparities are closely connected to race, culture, ethnicity and poverty. Due to a variety of barriers, some services are less available and accessible for people of color and other groups, such as children and youth; deaf and hard of hearing; and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people. South Country Health Alliance is continually working to address policies to improve treatment planning and practices related to cultural competency and health disparities.

Cultural competency, combined with clinical standards, improves the quality of health care for members from diverse communities. It works to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory practices in service delivery.

South Country Health Alliance is required by DHS to indicate which of our in-network providers have completed cultural competency training in their organization. South Country Health Alliance requires all contracted providers to annually complete cultural competency training in order to participate in the South Country Health Alliance network.

Provider Staff Diversity and Ethnicity

Provider organizations must have policies and procedures in place that address your staff’s diversity and ethnicity. This can include strategies for employee recruitment, retention and promotion at all levels of your organization.

  • A diverse staff is defined as being demographically representative of the community that the provider organization serves. Staff diversity and ethnicity play an important role in how the organization responds to the needs of the people it serves to provide equity of access, treatments and outcomes.
  • Provider organizations may incorporate cultural competency and messages in internal communications, which can lead to an increased trust in the workplace and staff retention. Providers can conduct regular assessments of their community to implement services and procedures to meet the cultural and linguistic diversity of the population in their service area.

 Provider Staff Education and Training

Provider organizations must ensure that staff at all levels of their organization receive ongoing education and training in culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS). Because minority groups are composed of multiple subcultures, it may not be possible to provide in-depth training on all cultures; however, some points to consider in your training/education should include the following:

  • Simply maintaining a diverse staff is not sufficient in meeting the requirement of providing culturally competent care.
  • Ongoing education and training that is based on the needs of the organization’s staff at all levels and relevant to the needs of the community is critical for ensuring culturally competent care.
  • Organizations should educate their health care provider staff with the goal to be responsive to cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs in their community. Providers should offer easy-to-understand materials in print and multimedia materials and signage in languages commonly used by the patient population in their community and service area.
  • Educational detail and information should emphasize the development of skills that allow staff and health care professionals to effectively ask questions, especially regarding medical care, of individuals with culturally diverse and ethnic backgrounds. Staff should inform all individuals of the availability of language assistance services in a clear manner in their preferred language, both verbally and in writing.
  • Staff training and education topics may include, but would not be limited to, the following:
    • Systemic Racism
    • Language Diversity
    • Individuals with Disabilities and Mental Health Concerns
    • Sexual Orientation
    • Religion, Spirituality and Beliefs
  • Training and education should expand the staff’s knowledge base so they can reduce racial, cultural and ethnic disparities in health care treatment options.

Providers should be able to detail why specific trainings were selected and how the trainings help improve their cultural competency as it specifically relates to their community and the populations they serve.

Training Options

US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards
Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services - Think Culture Health ( (external site)

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)
Cultural Competence
Cultural Competency Training (external site)

Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS)
Guidance about Afghan Immigrants’ Eligibility for Public Programs
Afghan refugees are eligible for many public programs, including medical assistance. Refer to Bulletin #21-06-05 DHS Provides Guidance about Afghan Immigrants’ Eligibility for Public Programs. Provider may use the following resources to better understand and navigate cultural aspects of providing services to Afghan refugees.

CMS Office of Minority Health
Office of Minority Health | CMS (external site)
The Road to Equity: Examining Structural Racism in Health Care (CMS Webinar site)

Poverty disproportionately affects racial and ethnic groups Healthy People 2030 (external site)

To identify poverty, unemployment, homelessness and other social determinants refer to Use Z codes (external site)

New resource available to assist providers with understanding and using Z codes to improve the quality and collection of health equity data. Using social determinants of health, Z codes can enhance quality improvement activities, track factors that influence people’s health, and provide further insight into existing health inequities. Please review the Z code infographic: Improving the Collection of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Data with ICD-10-CM Z Codes (2023)

Georgetown University
National Center for Cultural Competence
NCCC | home ( (external site)

The Joint Commission
Cultural Competence Roadmap for Hospitals
Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence and Patient- and Family-Centered Care
Roadmap for Hospitals (pdf)

Institute for Healthcare Improvement
Health Equity and other Resources
Improving health and health care worldwide requires a focus on equity — equity of access, treatments and outcomes. Health equity is realized when each individual has a fair opportunity to achieve their full health potential. The following link will offer information and training to assist your staff to obtain health equity.
Health Equity | IHI - Institute for Healthcare Improvement (external site)

My Diverse Patients site (external site)
Information to help you provide individualized care for all cultures.

Improving the patient experience training information help you provide individualized care for all cultures. (external site)

The American Hospital Association / Health Research and Educational Trust 
The following site reviews the concept of cultural competency and shows how to enhance cultural competency in health care.
Becoming a Culturally Competent Healthcare Organization Guide (external site)

Achieving Health Equity (external site)

Improving Health Care Quality for LGBTQ People (external site)

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