Flashback Friday is an installment highlighting stories from the MGH Hotline archive. This week’s flashback from the Aug. 6, 1987 edition features a creative diversity and inclusion effort at the MGH.

Here is the full story:

There was no welcome mat large enough to put outside. So the MGH did the next best thing.  A sign extending 20 feet by 5 feet now greets patients and visitors along the corridor on Wang ACC 5. It had to be big because the word “welcome” appears in 53 different languages! The idea for the sign came from Dr. John D. Stoeckle, Chief of Medical Clinics.

“We see so many international patients at the MGH,” said Dr. Stoeckle, “that I thought it would be good to have a sign in their own native language welcoming them to the hospital.” Over the past year and a half, the physician collected the word “welcome” in as many languages as he could, mostly from his own patients. Now, people from Somalia to Yugoslavia, Senegal to Portugal, and from the Congo to Togo can be greeted by the MGH in their own tongue.

Joanne Perry, the Primary Care Program Education Coordinator, assembled the languages with the help of the Berlitz Translation Center.  “With 2,796 different languages spoken in the world, we tried to narrow it down as much as we could,” she explained. “Berlitz was wonderful, especially Paul Ross. He worked with us in coming up with many of the less common languages. They did the same thing for the 1984 Summer Olympics.”

Brian Rutana, a freelance artist, designed the sign, and the MGH Medical Art Department served as a consultant. Two of Dr. Stoeckles’s patients – 94-year-old Olivia Finlay and Constance Rabinowitz – contributed funds for the sign.

“We hope people come and look at it,” said Dr. Stoeckle. “We want them to know that the MGH is for everyone, from every culture and background.”

Read more articles from the 08/04/17 Hotline issue.