Medical care interpreters seek professional recognition
By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
What if you had lethal allergic reactions to several drugs?
What, then, would be your chance of surviving your trip?
Every year more people come to Oregon to work or tackle Mt. Hood. What if they had a serious accident and had to go to a local hospital? What if they were not fluent in English?
“How are we going to take care of people who don‘t speak English?” Maria Susana “Susy” Molano asked. Molano is an energetic advocate for health care interpreters.
The United States government had already considered that question four decade ago. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that limited English proficient patients receive “effective communication” from healthcare givers.
In March 2001, The Office of Minority Health in the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a 130-page report, complete with a two-page glossary.
The report stated, “Health care organizations must offer and provide language assistance services, including bilingual staff and interpreter services, at no cost to each patient/consumer with limited English proficiency at all points of contact, in a timely manner during all hours of operation.”
Interpreters, the report continued, “must be made available to each individual with limited English proficiency who seeks services, regardless of the size of the individual’s languages group in that community.”
Becoming an interpreter
Fortunately for non-English speakers, Molano and about 75 others got together on May 17, 2010, to formally launch the newly-created Oregon Healthcare Interpreters Association.
Molano calls the association a “no-member organization.” Nor is it just for healthcare interpreters. Healthcare providers, individuals from hospital staffs, insurance companies, and state and private agencies can participate, Molano said.
Members or not, Molano recognizes the value of certifying health care interpreters. Without certification, she said, “You don’t know if the person that’s helping you knows what he is doing.”
In addition to fluency in two languages, an interpreter also needs to understand the specialized language that echos off hospital walls.
A fourth factor comes into play. “It’s not only about language, it’s how you relate to the patient,” Molano, noted. “If you cannot communicate with the patient, you can’t do anything.”
The Oregon’s Office of Equity and Inclusion promotes a “Health Care Interpreters Certification Program” on its web site (http://cms.oregon.egov.com/oha). The rub, Molano said, is that the program is “expensive for the interpreters and cumbersome. Fortunately, the [Oregon] Office of Equity and Inclusion … is working very hard to facilitate the certification in Oregon.”
Molano called the state’s interpreter certification programs “a great idea, but there are some issues to work out.”
So far, Molano said, only a few interpreters have been certified.
Across the Columbia River, the process is easier for interpreters in Washington. All the healthcare interpreters there are certified, Molano said.
Current languages Oregon will certify include Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Interpreters representing other languages may practice, but, at this time, may not receive any state credentials.
According to the Equity and Inclusion site, “Spanish is the most demanded language other than English in healthcare settings in Oregon. Other languages such as Russian and Vietnamese are also very commonly requested. However, other less common language may also be in high demand due to a scarcity of interpreters in these languages.”
Since illnesses and accidents do not recognize 9-to-5 working hours, healthcare interpreters may expect calls at any hour.
The job also has its physical hazards. In helping patients with contagious diseases, interpreters themselves are at risk of contracting serious illnesses.
Molano said that not all the insurance companies pay for the services of healthcare interpreters even if they are necessary partners in many cases. Moreover, interpreters help restore health, thus saving insurance companies money. Never mind that interpreters are helpful in virtually all cases — and absolutely essential in others.
Worse than that, Molano said, some health care providers fail to recognize the training that interpreters have received. “Some do not consider interpreters part of the medical team,” she said.
As technology expands, healthcare interpreters may extend their services to small towns not only by telephone but through computer and Skype connections. Another project is to create a call list of interpreters and distribute it so healthcare providers can contact appropriate interpreters quickly.
Thanks to a donation from the Northwest Health Foundation, the interpreters association will hold a training session on Oct. 6 at the Shriners Hospital in Portland.
Molano hopes to define organization’s goal and find members to handle assignments. She challenges the various groups to figure out how to make the best of blending their resources. Molano is also looking for people to serve on the OHCIA board of directors and hopes to identify some computer-literate supporters. Contact Molano at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
“Everybody needs to get together and see how to get the maximum results,” Molano urged.
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