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Building bridges: Language Access grows to meet demand for services

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Language Access Manager Natasha Curtis and her team of interpreters have one goal: making healthcare at Akron Children’s Hospital accessible to all families, regardless of their cultural background or the language they speak.

“Language services help bridge the gap for families who are immigrants and refugees, as well as those who are hearing impaired, and gives them access to quality, safe care,” she said.

Natasha Curtis

Natasha Curtis

Since it was formed in 2010, the language access department has grown significantly to keep up with ever-increasing demand. In 2013, 4,980 hours of interpretive services were provided in 26 different languages. The department has also hosted workshops for staff to promote cultural understanding, and extended connections into the community through agency partnerships.

The hospital has 7 medical interpreters, as well as 5 community liaisons, and has a contract with Pacific Interpreters to provide services over the phone as well. In addition to being bilingual, the medical interpreters at the hospital have extensive knowledge of medical terminology and healthcare.

“Our interpreters go above and beyond just Interpreting/transferring messages from one language into another. They also help our patient families navigate the sometimes challenging health care system and may need to intervene as ‘cultural brokers,’” Curtis said. “Through an appropriate and transparent intervention, the interpreter can open a pathway of trust through which the family and doctor can negotiate a culturally appropriate, safe plan of care for the patient.”

Interpreters have improved patient safety by preventing errors, such as mistakes with prescriptions, and have improved outcomes by reducing emergency department visits and hospitalizations, Curtis added. They also develop relationships with patients and families that strengthen our family centered care model.

“There must be trust between the family and the providers,” Curtis said. “Due to their life experiences, refugees are naturally distrustful of authority and medical interpreters are essential to building that patient-provider trust.”

Karen and Nepali interpreters are the most recent additions to the team, and both come from the refugee communities they serve.

“They have experienced great loss, and yet, have such gratitude,” said Curtis. “They worked hard to have a life in the United States and use their experiences to help others. They are admirable and inspirational, and they break down barriers to help us provide great care.”

Click the image below for a larger version or download the graphic as a PDF.

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