In multicultural cities around the world, the need for an army of social workers to meet the needs of the elderly and those living with long-term health conditions is growing year by year.
According to the most recent data, 16% of the US population is over 65, while this figure is closer to 20% in the UK.
As Covid-19 has exposed the inherent fragilities at the heart of the welfare system and the long-term isolation faced by many of the people it serves – conversations around care sector reform too often simply focus on having enough boots on the pitch, rather than on the nature and quality of the care itself.
A critical part of this is ensuring caregivers have a solid understanding of the cultural background of those in their care and how this might impact aspects such as language, diet, personal grooming and social attitudes.
Although there is growing recognition of the benefits to patients of home staff and health workers with “cultural competence”, there is, to date, much less certainty about how to to integrate.
The perfect match
There may still be a long way to go, but all of that may be about to change with the market entry earlier this year of Care Matched – a Platform as a Service (PAS) technology that aims to help agencies and care boards match care workers and recipients based on cultural competence, among other parameters.
Serving the BAME community in London since its launch in January, Care Matched is the brainchild of young social entrepreneur and founder Maaha Suleiman.
Coming from a Somali background with a BA in Global Health and Social Medicine from Kings College London and having grown up as a tech-focused millennial in Tower Hamlets – one of the capital’s most deprived and ethnically diverse boroughs – Suleiman already had a solid overview of the healthcare industry.
However, the real deciding factor that helped her navigate what was lacking in mainstream care services was her mother’s experience working in the borough as a home care worker.
“When my mother came home from work, she always received calls from the agency asking her if she spoke such and such a language and it intrigued me because I thought that there must be an easier and more efficient way to match people.” Suleiman said.
“The next thing I did was call 35 care agencies in the Towe Hamlets and ask if they had ever received requests for culturally appropriate care and the feedback I got was that this was happening all the time.”
Given her mother’s experiences, she was hardly surprised by the admission, but the real shock came when she asked the agencies how they met this requirement.
“If they had a request for a caregiver who spoke Tamil and could cook vegetarian Indian food, they would just take a look at their spreadsheet with the names of their caregivers and call whoever had an Indian-sounding name. . It’s problematic to say the least, let alone inefficient and racist,” she adds.
With encouragement from industry leaders that the sector was indeed crying out for a technology solution that could match and deliver culturally appropriate care, Suleiman saw his idea take second place in the prestigious Care Innovation Challenge 2019 with the final held in the offices of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.
During the long, hard months of uncertainty that characterized the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the healthcare industry found itself firmly in the media spotlight, she set about making her idea a reality.
Care Matched received a cash injection from PPI Tech Investments to build the technology stack, while Suleiman ensured that it consulted regularly with key industry stakeholders including the Care Quality Commission (CQC), Skills for Care and Care Innovation Hub.
The web portal and app launched in January 2022 and works like any traditional matching tool – with beneficiaries and care providers completing their requirements and qualifications respectively and the matching algorithm performing its magic in the background.
Care Matched doesn’t just focus on language and culture, but on other basic skills, including medical experience, like being a dementia nurse.
In terms of cultural components, caregiver profiles go far beyond language to encompass more culturally subtle but equally important elements such as religious understanding, food preparation, hair and grooming, and appreciation of special holidays like Eid, Diwali, Christmas and Hanukkah.
Basically, the platform is nothing as simplistic or trivial as matching individuals solely based on language and ethnicity.
To get started, caregivers must complete a cultural questionnaire and undergo training within the platform – requiring a high score on the test to gain full accreditation in being culturally competent to care for a certain group.
The beauty is, of course, that any caregiver from any background can take these tests and be accredited because the ultimate goal is not, as Suleiman explains, to match on ethnicity but only on knowledge and skills.
“We get a lot of questions about whether we are matching people based on their race, but for us it’s just about inclusion and the carer has a better understanding of an individual’s religion while enhancing their opportunities. career,” says Suleiman.
She explains that there are also huge practical benefits for the sector:
“It helps care agencies because they always have far more care demands than care workers. So if they had 10 Muslim care recipients but only three Muslim caregivers to care for them, then ideally they would want to have access to more staff who are willing to learn about this culture.
Ultimately, human relationships that blend care and cultural understanding are among the most complex, but the beauty of this technology that can enable its practical application is in its simplicity.
This should help ensure its future scalability and reach to reach beyond religion and culture and potentially help other segments of diversity obtain the personalized compassionate care that every human being deserves.