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Republican-American (Waterbury, CT)
May 11, 2006
Author: BY ED DZITKO
WATERBURY - When a patient who doesn't speak English seeks care at a hospital in the Naugatuck Valley, something is lost in the exchange. Often what is lost is the quality of care.
Isomar Vazquez, a freshman at Wilby High School, had to serve as an unofficial translator when her mother needed care. "When I have to translate, I don't tell my mother everything the doctor says, and my mother doesn't tell me everything that is bothering her," said Vazquez. Some of the issues that need to be talked about between doctor and patient can be "embarrassing" for a 15-year-old, she said.
There were nods of agreement and looks of understanding on the faces of several people Wednesday night in the crowd of more than 250 during a forum held by the Naugatuck Valley Project. The organization is calling on area hospitals to provide trained medical, face-to-face translators for the more than 40,000 non English-speaking immigrants living between Ansonia and Torrington.
Representatives from each hospital - Griffin in Derby, Charlotte-Hungerford in Torrington, and Saint Mary's and Waterbury hospitals in Waterbury - agreed at the meeting that language could be a barrier to adequate health care.
They agreed to work with each other, legislators and the Naugatuck Valley Project to develop a solution for medical interpretation, and to begin to do so at a roundtable discussion within the next 30 days.
"We do believe that collaboration between the community and the hospitals is the most efficient way to bring about a change," said Alan Maranacio, chairman of Charlotte-Hungerford's diversity committee.
A study commissioned by Naugatuck Valley Project found that the number of people in Seymour, Ansonia and Derby with limited English proficiency tripled from 1990 to 2000. There was an increase of 25 percent in Waterbury and 15 percent in Torrington.
Connecticut law requires hospitals to provide medical care for people in their own language when the percentage of the limited-English-proficiency population is more than 5, said Michael Miller of Community Catalyst, a national healthcare advocacy group based in Boston.
All four hospitals in the Naugatuck Valley provide translation services, though not with face-to-face interperters.
Charlotte-Hungerford and Waterbury use Language Line, while Saint Mary's and Griffin use Cyracom.
Both services provide around-the-clock access by telephone to translators able to provide translation in more than 200 languages.
Hospital staffers at all locations call an 800 number. In some cases, employees use a dual handset with the staff person on one end and the patient on the other, both talking to a translator. In other cases, the staff person and patient need to pass one handset back and forth.
John Tobin, president and CEO of Waterbury Hospital, said in a statement Tuesday that his organization "is committed to providing translation services to those patients that need it. ... As much as we like the human touch a face-to-face translator might provide, Language Line is very comprehensive in terms of languages, uses translators familiar with medical terminology, and is affordable... "
T.J. Senker, vice president of operations at Saint Mary's, echoed Tobin's statement in a separate conference call Tuesday.
However, during focus groups with more than 200 people earlier this year, the Naugatuck Valley Project discovered that many nonEnglish speakers were either not aware that translation services existed, or were not comfortable using them.
"My mother was uncomfortable with the translation service because the translator spoke a different kind of Portuguese," said Isabel Lagoas of Waterbury.
"I noticed such a difference in her when someone on staff was found who could speak the right Portuguese to her face to face."
Ken Roberts, director of communication at Griffin Hospital, said the Derby hospital is assigning a Spanish-speaking employee to spend 20 hours a week interpreting for Hispanic patients.
The employee also will complete a 50-hour medical interpreter class to become certified.
"The Spanish-speaking population is growing rapidly in the Valley and we wanted to be responsive to this need for medical interpreting," said Roberts. That employee's time will be scheduled before admissions or surgeries, said Roberts, to maximize her effectiveness.
Ginny Potrepka, patient advocate at Waterbury Hospital, said the hospital would consider using face-to-face interpreters for specific purposes, like scheduled pre-admission or teaching classes. Senker said Saint Mary's is looking into furthering the language skills of some of its employees.