In 1994, the Chinese-American Volunteer Corp (CAVC) was established to help reduce barriers in language, cultural beliefs and community isolation. The program is located in NYU Downtown Hospital (NYUDH), which is in an area with a large concentration of ethnic Chinese residents in the United States. Therefore bilingual support is necessary for the hospital to provide these patients and the community with hospital services.
There is a dire need for a group like the Chinese-American Volunteer Corp and their services. Different beliefs, concepts and values preclude many Chinese from obtaining necessary health care. Also, there is the barrier of community isolation in that newly arrived immigrants and long-standing residents of Chinatown pursue their livelihoods, social and family obligations within the ethnic boundaries of their community. The new Chinese residents often lack basic information about heath care prevention, risk factors and the symptoms of diseases.
When CAVC first began, a core group of volunteers were recruited to assist with developing promotional materials in the Chinese language and to assist with marketing the CAVC program. As a result, 285 Chinese speaking individuals volunteered for the hospital the year following its establishment. Currently, there are more than 1,082 Chinese volunteers at the hospital. Approximately 80% of new applicants are referred to the hospital through other volunteers, an indication that the program has developed a solid reputation in the community.
In 1996, a special information desk was set up in the main lobby of the hospital for Chinese patients and visitors during the weekdays. The CAVC volunteers greet patients and visitors, provide directions during the weekdays to appropriate departments, translate medical bills, check appointment times and answer questions from patients and visitors. CAVC volunteers also assist with the hospital's free screening events. Each year, the CAVC helps set up a street health fair to provide health information to the Chinese community. The volunteers register and escort patients through the screening process and distribute health information materials.
Aside from outreach and health screenings, the CAVC program developed a Designated Chinese Volunteer Translator Team in 1996. Each day a CAVC volunteer is scheduled to carry a pager while they are volunteering in the hospital. Hospital staff is able to directly page the volunteer whenever Chinese translating is needed. Patients, doctors and staff no longer have to wait for a long time because response time is usually within five minutes. A toll-free Chinese Health Information and Referral Hotline was also developed to assist Chinese patients with health-related questions and to provide health education materials and referral services to doctors and nurses. Calls come from primarily New York City residents but also from other states across the country and Canada.
The Chinese-American Volunteer Corp has had and significant impact not only on the Chinese community but on the entire hospital community as well. Since CAVC was founded, Chinese immigrants are no longer afraid of coming to the hospital because they do not speak English. Hospital information, department directions and language interpretation are available immediately; the presence of Chinese volunteers has made patients feel more comfortable. The Chinese-American Volunteer Corp has helped to break down barriers that would otherwise prevent adequate medical care and health maintenance and improve the quality of life for Chinese citizens.