Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth Korean patient liaison Grace Cruz, left, translates the content of a consent form for Yunsil Hwang, the mother of a paitent. GWC_Duluth has implemented a number of programs to improve the hospital experience of a growing number of Korean patients. Among the changes are special menu items, translated medical forms, Korean TV channels and a Korean patient liaison.
DULUTH -- Gwinnett Medical Center's Duluth campus is trading chicken noodle soup for rice porridge.
Over the last decade or so, the Korean American population in Duluth and surrounding communities has flourished. The most recent census data puts the city's Asian demographic at about 23 percent, a large chunk of which has Korean roots.
The local hospital has begun to adapt, starting with offering "jook" to Korean patients, a rice porridge that's considered their parallel to the traditional American chicken noodle soul food.
"We felt like in the past a lot of times the community came to us," GMC-Duluth president Lea Bay said, "and we were reactive in terms of how to make our environment more comfortable to them."
They're turning that on its head.
Over the last two years, the hospital off Howell Ferry Road has rolled out a number of offerings to make Korean American patients more comfortable -- things like Korean-language newspapers and television programming, translated medical forms and the aforementioned food more suitable to the traditional Korean palate.
The hospital now has four doctors, three nurses, three X-ray technicians and a dietitian who speak Korean.
"You see a lot of Korean American doctors who have practices that are catered toward Korean American patients," said BJ Pak, a Korean American and State House representative from nearby District 102. "But this is one of the first mainstream hospitals to accommodate for that clientele base. I think it shows a strong effort to reach into that community."
The biggest step, though, was quite possibly the hiring of Grace Seoyoung Cruz. A former medical translator, Cruz now serves as GMC-Duluth's Korean patient liaison. More than just a translator, Cruz is on board to help mold the hospital's culture and make it more comfortable for Korean patients.
In Korean emergency rooms, doctors are waiting for you. Traditional Korean mothers don't shower for several days after giving birth, and hold themselves to a very strict diet. Cruz is there to explain differences like those to both sides, patients and caregivers.
"She can make daily suggestions," Bay said, "which might have taken us months to learn and figure out how to do."
Added Cruz: "I love it. I can help them the way I want to help them, and I can do much more than an interpreter."
Cruz's hiring and the subsequent changes are the fruits of a project initially dubbed "Planning for the Korean Patient." That, in turn, was born out of a presentation hospital associates saw from the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, one focusing on the Korean community in the county.
Add a state of the city address a few days later, one held at the Duluth home of a Korean television network, and the wheels really started turning.
Now they're turning very, very quickly.
"People are coming from downtown Atlanta because we have Korean speakers here," Cruz said with a laugh. "When they call 911, wherever they live, they say, 'We want to go to Duluth.' Sometimes the paramedic disagrees, but patients will insist."