Medicine and mariachis
St. Barnabas Hospital celebrates diversity
Story and photos by Gregg McQueen
On a recent Friday afternoon at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, the sounds typical of a bustling health care center could be heard in the hallways.
The whirring and beeping of medical equipment.
Conversation among doctors about patient symptoms.
The upbeat strains of a live mariachi band.
If the latter seemed unusual for a hospital, it wasn’t out of place for staff at St. Barnabas. The folk music was part of “Viva Mexico!” – the latest installment of the hospital’s ongoing diversity campaign.
Since 2011, St. Barnabas has held bi-monthly celebrations to recognize and educate people on the different cultures and ethnicities that comprise the hospital staff and its patients.
Each diversity day concentrates on a particular country or region of the globe. While the most recent focused on the customs of Mexico, past events have spotlighted Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Africa, Ireland, Italy, South America and China.
Speeches, entertainment and food from the highlighted region make up each celebration. More than 90 different countries are represented within the St. Barnabas staff.
“These events help us understand our co-workers better, and our patients better,” said Dr. Jerry Balentine, Executive Vice President of Clinical Strategies and Affiliations at St Barnabas.
To coincide with the events honoring each country, St. Barnabas preps staff with details on that nation’s healthcare system, how its people respond to illness, and their diet and health practices. This makes providers more cognizant of patients from each background.
“We’re all from different walks of life,” said Dr. Uri Belkind, a physician of adolescent medicine at St. Barnabas, to a gathering of staff in the hospital auditorium. “It’s important that we understand a diverse population.”
Dr. Belkind explained that when doctors understand a bit about a patient’s culture, it can help them interact and make patients more comfortable.
“Just knowing how to talk with them can make all the difference,” he said.
For the Mexico Day festivities, hospital staff listened to a trio of speakers and were then treated to a raffle of Mexican-themed gift baskets and a piñata, as well as a rousing performance by renowned entertainers Mariachi Real de Mexico.
The band had the audience clapping, singing and shaking maracas along to their festive music.
Doris Palazzo, Vice President of Patient Experience at St. Barnabas Hospital, described herself as “100% Mexican-American,” as both her parents were raised in Mexico.
“My mother was one of 21 children, and my father came to America as a stowaway aboard a ship,” she said.
Palazzo, who grew up in Washington Heights, recounted how traditional Mexican music always filled their apartment.
“I have wonderful memories of childhood, and our large family gatherings,” she said. Dr. Belkind said his parents were born in Russia, but they fled that country and ended up staying in Mexico.
“Once they tasted the food in Mexico, they never wanted to leave,” he joked.
Dr. Belkind, who spent the early part of his physician career in Mexico, said that the healthcare culture in that country is quite different from the United States.
He said that in Mexico, men typically don’t seek medical care, because it is traditional for a man to work to support the family.
“When men finally come to the doctor, it’s because their problem is very serious and they can no longer go to work,” he observed.
Dr. Balentine told the audience that diversity in patient population is one of the things that drew him to St. Barnabas.
“We have to provide quality care to anyone who comes to our door, regardless of where they’re from,” he said.
Palazzo remarked that the diversity campaign at St. Barnabas something dear to her heart.
“It’s with great pride that this hospital takes care of all members of our community,” she said.