Until recently, Rahmah, a Muslim woman who moved here from
Somalia in 1997, was embarrassed when she was told to disrobe for doctor’s
examinations at Maine Medical Center. The short hem and open back of the
flimsy robe she was asked to put on affronted her religious belief that
women should dress to preserve their modesty.

”It was very troubling,” said Rahmah, a hospital employee who did not
want her last name used because of some anti-Muslim sentiment directed at
the hospital. ”It showed my body and I was not comfortable.”

When a nurse could not provide her with a longer johnny, as the gowns are
called, she covered her legs with a shawl before the doctor entered. The
hospital gown, she and others thought, needed to be redesigned for Muslim

Seven years later, Maine Medical Center is doing just that, after
discovering that a number of Muslim women were skipping appointments rather
than expose their skin to a doctor. The hospital is offering all patients a
two-piece alternative to the traditional short gown. It cloaks patients
from neck to feet, in accordance with Muslim standards of modesty and the
desire of many other patients to cover up in the hospital.

”It’s one piece of an overall effort to improve patient care,” said Dana
Farris Gaya, manager of interpreter and cross-cultural services for Maine
Medical Center. She picked up on an interpreter’s comments about the gowns
at a meeting about Muslim health issues in November and canvassed Muslims
for feedback.

”We saw that people were not getting the medical care they needed,” Ms.
Gaya said. We had to look at the barriers to care, and the johnny was one,
so we made it longer.”

Patients are now given the option to wear a longer, roomier top piece that
provides ample back coverage. The new part of the design is a floor-length
sarong that patients tie around their waists beneath the gown. The
hospital’s seamstress has made about 75 of various vibrant colors and
prints, some with purple and white flowers, others with what appears to be
rainbow streaks of paint. Some of these bottom pieces, which resemble large
bedsheets, are in maroon and green prints more appropriate for men. They
have been available for about four weeks..


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