Being told that you or a loved one have a serious illness is frightening but imagine trying to navigate an end-of-life journey with clinicians who don’t speak your language or understand your culture.
At one of the most difficult points in your life, you wonder how you will get the answers you’re seeking and the care and compassion you need.
Care Dimensions’ RN Luz Tejeda helps put those fears to rest for Spanish-speaking hospice patients and their families north of Boston. Having grown up and worked as a nurse in the Dominican Republic, she bridges language and cultural gaps between hospice clinicians and their Spanish-speaking patients and families.
“I am motivated to help my people,” says Tejeda, 73, who came to the United States 31 years ago after waiting nine years for her visa application to be processed. “I understand the culture and know how to talk with them, and they’re happy to have me. I get information that an English-only speaking nurse can’t. They know I understand their needs and culture, which means that I can communicate with them in a way they know and accept.
“Education is a big part of being a hospice nurse because you need to educate the family about what is going on, and what to expect when the time comes,” Tejeda continues. “And when you do that, they go from being worried about the unknown to being calm and prepared. When I see that I’ve made a difference for someone, that makes me happy no matter how busy I am.”
“Luz epitomizes what it means to be culturally competent as she works with all of our families,” notes Clinical Manager Sydney Dolat. “Often when Spanish-speaking patients come onto our hospice service, they have a hard time accepting that their loved one is dying and letting go of curative care measures. Luz can talk with them and help them understand the benefits of hospice, primarily keeping the patient comfortable and pain-free.
“Earning their trust is what makes Luz such an influential nurse,” Dolat adds. “She also will accompany other RN case managers on visits with Spanish-speaking patients to have difficult conversations in their own language. This makes such a difference. Luz can go beyond the role of an interpreter and can expound on questions or concerns. This is invaluable.”
Tejeda knew as a young girl that she wanted to be a nurse, but her path to becoming a hospice RN in the U.S. was a long one that took dedication and perseverance. Her family began to immigrate to the U.S. in 1962; 20 years later, when she was a maternity nurse and her brother had U.S. citizenship, her long wait for a visa began. She learned to read and write English but had difficulty speaking and understanding it when she arrived in Lynn, MA, in 1991. She was 43, enrolled in an English as Second Language class at North Shore Community College, and took a job as an aide in a nursing home.
After becoming certified as a respiratory therapist and improving her English, she kept aspiring to the next step and completed an LPN course at the Chelsea Soldiers Home. She worked for a year at the state-run Tewksbury Hospital, then at long-term care facilities. Determined to become an RN, she took online classes at night while working full-time and passed the exam in 2011.
While working an LPN at a nursing home, Tejeda met some Care Dimensions nurses and took end-of-life care courses. “I was always sensitive when people were dying in my care and I was able to recommend Care Dimensions for hospice when I noticed a patient was dying,” she recalls. Armed with her RN license in 2014, she applied for and was accepted as a hospice nurse at Care Dimensions.
“Luz had a calling to be a hospice nurse and she knew it,” says Laurie Eliot, clinical director for home care (North Shore). “She came to us wearing her compassionate heart on her sleeve and that made all the difference.”
Among the hospice patients Tejeda cares for is Ramon, a 70-year-old man with dementia who is from the Dominican Republic and does not understand English. Ramon’s wife, Yolanda, communicates with Tejeda about her husband’s care.
“I can understand some English but am not able to speak it,” says Yolanda through Luz, who acts as an interpreter. “Having Luz here, it’s easy for me to answer questions on his (Ramon’s) behalf. Luz feels like family to us.”
“It’s been a good relationship, and we’ve never had a problem with communication in the five months that I’ve been treating Ramon,” adds Tejeda.
Although most nurses her age are retired, Tejeda wants to keep doing the work she loves.
“I enjoy helping people. God gave me this gift and I have no plans to go anywhere. One of the nurses who works at Kaplan Family Hospice House told me, ‘Luz, those patients you refer here love you.’ This is my reward. I feel like I’m doing something for them and that makes me happy.”
About the author
Lisa Conti is Senior Marketing Communications Specialist for Care Dimensions and manages its Voices of Care blog.
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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore, has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.