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SUHI Project: Improving Access to Health and Mental Health for Chicago's Deaf Community



Improving Access to Health and Mental Health for Chicago's Deaf Community


With funding from the Michael Reese Health TrustAdvocate Health Care (AHC) and the Sinai Health System (SHS), the Sinai Urban Health Institute has spent ten years researching and testing interventions to overcome communication barriers with Deaf patients.  The over-arching goal of this research was to increase access to quality health and mental health care for Deaf and hard of hearing people. Evaluation was led by the Sinai Urban Health Institute.  Deaf persons are a cultural/linguistic minority, with a common language that requires face-to-face contact for full comprehension (American Sign Language or ASL). Deaf patients experience barriers to communication within the healthcare arena that can lead to misdiagnosis, non-compliance with treatment and, ultimately, poor health outcomes.

Project Plan:

The project worked in the Chicago metropolitan area with patients and advocates in the Deaf community, as well as with health care providers, and health institutions to gain a better understanding of the needs of the Deaf patient and the resources needed by providers to better serve patients who are deaf or hard of hearing. The project team then developed and evaluated interventions to address the identified barriers. 

The project began with a ground-breaking survey of the health status, experiences and knowledge of a group of 203 Deaf patients. The survey revealed gaps in knowledge and a subsequent impact on health behavior.  With this data in hand, the project undertook two tracks for further intervention and research; one track led to the development of three health education curricula for patients, the second track led to assessment, training and process improvement for providers and healthcare institutions.

The patient education intervention covered the topics of depression management, cardiovascular disease prevention and management, and patient activation and self-efficacy.  Each of these three curricula proved effective in increasing participant knowledge and intent to change behavior. ASL videos were also produced at each stage to be used in conjunction with the class series or independently. (See the ASL videos for depression, CVD, and “Active Patient, Healthy Living”.) 

The provider and institutionally-focused interventions included:  an educational training program for hospital staff and a process improvement project covering seven hospitals and seven outpatient clinics in which barriers to care for Deaf patients were identified, recommendations made and process improvement plans implemented.

Project Updates:

A Report summarizing the 10-year initiative in more detail can be found here and a document highlighting lessons learned via the initiative can be found here. The products and tools produced for this project are available to the public here. Numerous professional presentations and published articles resulted from this work and are also available.  Additional Patient Education Resources in ASL are summarized here.





Sinai Deaf Health

Advocate Metro Outreach-Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program

Michael Reese Health Trust

Final Report

Lessons Learned

Products List

Patient Resources in ASL