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In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series, Michele Skalicky talks with an employee of St. John's who works to help patients who can't speak English.
Having to go the emergency room for a serious illness or accident is a scary ordeal…but imagine if you have to visit the emergency room and you can’t understand what the doctors or nurses are saying to you. That’s the reality for immigrants in the Ozarks who haven’t learned to speak English. Dr. Robert Saylor, director of ethics at St. John’s Health System says they’re seeing more and more patients who have difficulty communicating.
"It's growing, and we are seeing a larger number as time goes on, just as most hospitals are. The numbers will continue to grow, we're aware of that, and the number of patients that we see through the emergency rooms in all of the hospitals around here have increased significantly."
He says there are many barriers to healthcare for immigrants, including language.
"Many of them don't have health insurance to begin with and don't have primary care physicians. The barriers include not only the cultural from the standpoint of language barrier, but also the lack of family. Many of them do not have family or a support group here, and so it's important that we try to seek out a support group for those people."
According to Ann Meuser, vice-president of mission services at St. John’s, says when someone comes into the hospital who doesn’t speak English, every effort is made to provide an interpreter for them. That’s done even if the patient brings along family members who can speak English.
"We feel that's not really fair to the child to be interpreting very serious disease discussions with their parent, so we do have trained and expert interpreters who are from our own employee rank."
Those interpreters must complete a 40-hour program called “Bridging the Gap.” It teaches things like techniques, ethics, protocols and other things involved with being a medical interpreter. There are currently 20 who have been thru the program and who now work to interpret for patients who have difficulty communicating with medical providers.
"For many of them it's a secondary job class because they do have a primary responsibility, so it depends on their schedule, their availability and how quickly we need an interpreter as to whether or not they can leave their job, clock out and then clock in as the medical interpreter."
Mariana Marquez decided to become a translator because she wanted to help fulfill a need.
"I think the patient has the right to know what's going on and more than anything in your medical situation. If you're talking about health and problems you may have, I think it's your right to know what's going on and understand very well the situation."
She’s been at her job for about a year and a half though she’s worked at St. John’s in another capacity for about 6 years. Before becoming a medical interpreter, she attended the Bridging the Gap program.
"They teach us basically how to interpret properly for a medical situation."
Mariana Marquez sees and helps different patients 3 to 4 times each week. Not only does she translate for them, she tries to fulfill other needs as well. One patient liked soccer, so Marquez taped some games for him to watch.
"When I do stuff like that, it's just to, you know, you care about the patient and you try to fulfill their need. For me, it's really not a problem, for example, in that case you just tape a game and just, so he has access to something that he may enjoy and make his day go well, just for the smile you just don't care taking that extra time in your house to do it for the patient. I think it's really rewarding for me as a person."Being able to help patients who don’t understand English is very rewarding for Marquez, who came to the US from Venezuela a little over six years ago.
"It makes me feel wonderful just to be able to do this and knowing that, with me there, the patient feels really relieved just to know that I'm there. You wouldn't believe the faces that they make showing that we care enough to have somebody that can explain in their words what's going on, so it's really, really good."
This program is on the web at ksmu.org. For KSMU and the Sense of Community Series, I’m Michele Skalicky.