New Brunswick, NJ – Did you know that 9 out of 10 adults in American struggle with health literacy? That New Jersey is the third most diverse state in the nation with more than 150 different languages spoken by its residents? To help improve the quality of care and promote health literacy, the American Conference on Diversity held the annual Health Equity Conference for healthcare professionals and administrators on November 1 at the New Jersey Hospital Association Conference Center in Princeton.

“We’re exploring issues of cultural competency and establishing a new standard for giving care. To date, the American Conference on Diversity has worked with more than 80 percent of acute healthcare facilities throughout New Jersey,” said President and CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley (shown, right).

The day-long conference – as well as the Cultural Competency Train-the-Trainer program held October 18 – is designed to help healthcare professionals better interact with patients and understand the impact of bias and stereotyping. Both initiatives were sponsored by the Horizon Foundation for NJ.

Jann Keenan, a healthcare literacy and equity expert and president of Maryland-based The Keenan Group, kicked off the conference with 8 practical tips to create a health-literate organization (shown, left). These tips include using “living room language” (communicating with patients so that the message can be understood the first time it’s heard or read), simplifying signage and instructions (such as using easy-to-read 12- to 14-point fonts and simple graphics on printed materials), and introducing the “teach back” approach.

“Eighty percent of patients forget what the doctor said to them… And patients who don’t fully understand or can’t act on information about healthcare are more likely to be in poorer health,” said Keenan. “You need to test your patients and ask open-ended questions to make sure they understand what you are saying.”


Clear communication is key to quality healthcare, whether interacting with a patient or policyholder. Making the new healthcare reform law understandable to insurance policyholders was a challenge Daisy Chan (shown), Director of Enterprise Communications & Employee Engagement at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, recently faced. During her presentation, she shared ways in which the Horizon team strategically revamped digital, print, and other communications in order to convey complex changes in the law through simple language. Chan shared the organization’s “3 Things to Know About Healthcare Law” video with easy-to-read checklists to illustrate her point. Beyond creating new meaningful marketing materials, “we also held 50 to 60 community events this past summer on health reform to help answer any questions people have about the law,” she said.


An insightful panel discussion intersecting health literacy and end-of-life care followed. It was moderated by Victor Gazzara, DM, MSW, LSW, OSW-C, Psychosocial Services Coordinator at Shore Cancer Center, Director of Social Services at Shore Medical Center, and the American Conference on Diversity Atlantic County Chapter Chair. Panelists included: Rabbi Lawrence S. Zierler, Ethics Member, Holy Name Medical Center – Jewish Center of Teaneck (shown, right); Rev. Dr. George Blackwell (shown, center), Good Neighbor Baptist Church, Newark; and Dr. D. Robert Kennedy (shown, left), Senior Pastor of The Seventh-Day Adventist Church of the Oranges, which has 800 members representing 31 different countries.

“It’s critical when dealing with any persons of ethnicity to embrace them on common ground,” said Rev. Dr. Blackwell. “Cultural competency is more about being aware of what’s coming out of you!”


Speaker Sophia Rossovsky (shown), who holds a Master’s in Education and Linguistics and has a consulting practice called Diversity Experts Inc., wrapped up the conference with a comprehensive session on language accessibility across healthcare settings. Attendees learned new ways to actively listen to patients, how to see beyond the boundaries of their own cultural interpretations, and why healthcare providers need to use qualified interpreters. “Unnecessary tests are being done every day because patients don’t have a clue what they’re signing,” warns Rossovsky. “Is that grounds for a lawsuit?”

As part of the American Conference on Diversity’s 65th anniversary celebration, this year’s Health Equity conference was videotaped and will be presented as a webinar series this spring. If you are interested in participating in the upcoming webinar series, please send us an email at

About the American Conference on Diversity

The programs, services, and initiatives of the American Conference on Diversity are among the most important work focused on creating a more inclusive society. It is the unfinished business of living in a highly diverse nation: educating and empowering our next generation of leaders; enhancing our workplaces; and helping to create inclusive communities. The American Conference on Diversity, which has been serving schools, organizations, workplaces, and communities in New Jersey since 1948, builds on a historic mission and creates programs and activities relevant and vital to 21st Century life. It is a journey we can all take together. The American Conference on Diversity operates Regional Community Networks covering all of New Jersey. Visit to learn more.



Gail Zoppo

Media Relations Consultant

109 Church Street

New Brunswick, NJ 08901