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 to help organizations reduce disparities and improve health care quality, while serving our nation’s diverse communities.
From the earliest chapters of the American story, our diversity has defined us, and given us strength. “Out of many, one”: those simple yet powerful words speak to an unshakable faith in the ties that bind us together.
In the face of changing demographics in this country and a health care system undergoing unprecedented transformation, cultural and linguistic competency may just be one of our most powerful levers for advancing health equity and improving care for everyone.
Last week, the Office of Minority Health along with several partners released the new enhanced National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care —also known as the enhanced CLAS Standards. The enhanced CLAS Standards aim to advance health equity, improve quality and help eliminate health disparities by establishing a framework for health and health care organizations to deliver effective, culturally responsive and linguistically appropriate care and services. Accompanying the standards is the Blueprint for Advancing and Sustaining CLAS Policy and Practice, a resource filled with implementation strategies to help organizations develop culturally and linguistically appropriate policies and practices.
We launched the original CLAS Standards in 2000, and now, with the input of experts and advocates from around the country, we have updated the standards to ensure an even stronger platform for equity. The enhanced CLAS Standards are grounded in a broad definition of culture – recognizing that our health beliefs and practices are influenced not only by race, ethnicity and language, but also socioeconomic status, religion, spirituality, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity and geography. The enhanced standards emphasize governance and accountability – underscoring the need for strong leadership in advancing system-wide change. And they call for participation by a broad array of organizations, recognizing that health equity cannot be achieved unless all institutions and all sectors are at the table.
For too long, too many Americans have struggled to achieve good health because the health care and services that are available to them do not adequately address their needs. Over the years, we have found that one of the most effective approaches to closing these costly gaps is ensuring the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate care. A growing body of research shows that health outcomes and patient experiences improve when care and services are provided in an environment that is culturally respectful and responsive at every point of contact.
The enhanced National CLAS Standards build on the foundation of the Affordable Care Act, empowering health and health care organizations to participate in the transformation of our nation’s system of care, and better serve our nation’s increasingly diverse communities.
We encourage everyone – from individuals and organizations – to take part by promoting, adopting and implementing the enhanced CLAS Standards. At this time of transformation, we have a remarkable window of opportunity to advance health equity and ensure that all Americans, in all communities, have a chance to live healthy lives.