The power of conversation

This article was originally published by the Indiana Hospital Association.

On a sunny morning at Parkview LaGrange Hospital, situated just south of the Michigan border in northeast Indiana, a small group of Amish and English (the term commonly used to refer to non-Amish) gathered in the Corner Café. While some of them had never met before, there was certainly a familiarity. Because they were gathered just as others had many times before – sitting down at the table to listen and talk to each other.

Despite it being nearly lunchtime, there wouldn’t be a meal at this meeting. But there would be fellowship. Understanding. Friendly chatter. It was enough to leave anyone feeling full.

Education

Cultural diversity in LaGrange County is easy to see. That’s because nearly half of the county’s population is Amish, and their lifestyle includes a unique way of living, dressing, traveling and communicating.

“The uniqueness of our community intrigues people,” said Jordi Disler, president of Parkview LaGrange Hospital. Outsiders are naturally curious, so the hospital seeks to educate others on how the Amish and English can work together.

“Education is key. Rather than focus on our differences, we try to explain the values of our population and how we’ve forged a relationship,” she said.

Disler, who has been in LaGrange nearly eight years, says the hospital’s relationship with the Amish has evolved and deepened. But it took time, patience and work from the entire community.

“This isn’t about either of us, it’s about all of us,” she said, gesturing to everyone seated at the table, both Amish and English.

“It’s not a novelty, it’s a way of life up here,” she said.

The Amish representatives at the table agreed. One explained: “We were at a home and garden show once and a man asked, ‘How can we learn more about the Amish community?’ My friend had the best response. He said, ‘The best thing to do is come visit.’”

The Amish believe in living simple, humble lives and never seek attention. They prefer not to be photographed or put in the spotlight, which is why we are not sharing their names or photographs. However, they are happy to talk, listen and find understanding.

Communication

Two-way communication is the foundation that helps Parkview LaGrange serve the Amish, and vice versa. “That’s all we need to understand each other,” one of the Amish men said.

Take, for example, the hospital’s triennial Community Health Needs Assessment. Historically, the surveys have always been conducted via telephone. However, the Amish don’t own personal phones, so not every household has easy access to that form of communication.

Knowing they were missing out on feedback from a large portion of their population, the hospital worked with the Amish to create a paper survey, making the assessment more accessible for 2019. So far, the hospital has received twice as many responses from the Amish as they have in previous years, allowing for a clearer picture of their health needs.

“For the first time in history, the response actually reflects the population,” Disler said excitedly. She credited Amish leaders for their help in distributing and collecting the paper copies.

The hospital also provides an opportunity for near daily communication with the Amish. For nine years now, Parkview LaGrange Hospital has employed a Plain Church coordinator, a full-time co-worker who acts as a liaison between the hospital and Amish patients.

The Amish community’s Plain Church Group Ministries is in place to handle a lot of health care questions, but having a single point of contact at the hospital makes everyone’s job easier. Knowing the Amish community’s limited access to telephones, Sondra Geyer, the hospital’s Plain Church coordinator, acts as that single point of reference for information throughout the hospital, or even the larger system, reducing the time spent searching for answers or being transferred to multiple lines. 

Collaboration

Disler explained that the hospital actively seeks the Amish community’s input and prefers to collaborate whenever possible, to ensure respect for their culture.

In addition to having a representative on the board of directors, the Amish serve on the hospital’s Patient Family Advisory Committee and in volunteer resources. “Their feedback and time are invaluable,” Disler said.

The hospital’s buggy barns are an excellent example of collaboration. Everyone – the hospital, the Parkview LaGrange Foundation and the Amish community – played a part in planning and building the structures. Recently, an expansion was completed, adding more stalls and enhanced features for the horses’ care and safety. 

“The barns wouldn’t have been possible without everyone’s support,” said Rose Fritzinger, director of the Foundation. She expressed gratitude for the Amish community’s philanthropic spirit. “Generosity is about more than funding. It’s about giving time, energy and input to make the community better for everyone.

“Generosity really does heal,” she said.

People

With buggies parked outside, and handmade quilts hanging inside, it’s clear to see how the Amish are engrained in the culture of Parkview LaGrange Hospital.

But the Amish don’t just come to the hospital; the hospital comes to them. Disler regularly drives new providers and hospital leaders to the Plain Church Group Ministries’ office so they can shake hands, and put faces with names.

More importantly, the hospital wants to keep an open forum for education, communication and collaboration.

“This is about so much more than health care,” she said. “It’s about building relationships and learning from one another to best meet the needs of our community.”

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