Translating Health Care
Immigrants, predominately Spanish speakers are coming to Missouri at a much higher rate compared to averages across the rest of the country.
In fact, Missouri's Hispanic population grew almost twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. between 1990 and 2000.
That translates to more and more non-English speaking patients needing health and medical care.
Grace Vega with MU health care language services explains her role of interpreter in health. "There was a big accident. There were people in that accident from all over Central America, Not just Mexico but from all over and we were the link to those family members," Vega said. "I was amazed, I was talking to people from Guatemala and Honduras and Mexico.
It's about the worst case scenario for a medical interpreter, a crash on I-70 with 20 passengers in a van none who spoke English.
"We didn't have names for people. We didn't have a clue," Vega said. "We were trying to figure out how to identify these patients and not break HIPPA policy. People were very thankful. Even when we had to tell five of their contacts that the people had died in the accident."
Thankfully, most medical interpreting jobs aren't as tragic. But there's a daily need at local hospitals.
Grace Vega's office is well on it's way to 3000 cases needing interpretative services this year alone.
And even with those numbers, many immigrants still aren't seeking health care services unless it's an emergency.
MU social work professor Margie Sable explains "They don't go to health services because they don't speak English well and they're afraid if they don't speak Spanish, they won't be able to communicate. "
Maria Cepeda works with the MO office of minority health she says "There are many Hispanics that don't know how to speak English. So they have problems on enrolling their kids in Medicaid when they're eligible, or women getting prenatal care."
Those who argue anyone living in this country should have to speak English would take comfort in knowing the interpreters KOMU spoke to said most immigrants are trying.
And making medical interpretation and translation available seems to be making the language barrier less daunting and a health condition less frightening for some immigrants.
"She was able to calm the mother down and tell her about things," said Alice Kuehn MU nursing professor. "The main thing is once the mother understood the nurse spoke Spanish, then they relaxed."
"One time I had to say to a lady that she had breast cancer. But because of the way things were arranged," Cepeda explained "She was able to find early treatment and she's a survivor."
"I could go home every day and say 'There were some awful things I had to say or let people know," Vega explained "but at least they knew and they could work from there."
Face to face interpreting services cost about $30 an hour.
The language services office for University Hospital and clinics was only established about a year and a half ago, it has a budget of about $160,000 dollars paid for out of the hospital's general revenue.
While 95% of the interpretation services needed through Grace Vega's office are for Spanish.
There are hundreds of additional languages able to be understood through a phone program University Hospital subscribes to.