Most hospitals in the San Fernando Valley have staff on hand to assist patients who don’t speak enough English to communicate with their doctors or nurses, but Daniele Dibie is working to make sure that hospital interpreters are better trained in order to ensure that patients are getting the medical information they need. Dibie has been teaching program a for health care interpreters at CSUN’s Roland Tseng College of Extended Learning for the last two years. About one dozen students take the class every semester. The program is based on another CSUN class for court interpreters. Those classes are attended by as many as 300 students at a time, Dibie said. Because the demand for interpreters in the court system is so great, she said, students are almost guaranteed a job paying $265 per day, whereas hospitals cannot afford and are not required to hire as many live interpreters. Many of the health care interpretation students are still able to get jobs as hospital interpreters at hospitals in or nearby Los Angeles. However they find that it’s mostly large hospitals, like Cedars-Sinai Medical Center or Childrens Hospital Los Angeles that hire full-time interpreters. Most smaller hospitals rely on bilingual staff members or a phone interpreting service for patients. A survey of eight hospitals conducted in July by the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley showed that only one of them had a paid interpreter. Four had volunteer interpreters, six had bilingual staff members and six relied on phone interpreters. Most hospitals reported that cost is a barrier to hiring a live interpreter. Hospitals are required to offer some kind of translation service to patients in order to receive federal funding, but they are not required to employ a live person. The phone interpreters, Dibie said, are an inefficient way to offer translation however. “By the time a doctor gets on the phone and speaks to a person and the person then speaks to the patient, you’ve tripled the time the doctor has to spend with a patient, and it’s kind of like playing telephone, you never get it quite right.” Dibie said that a lot of hospitals often rely on bilingual staff members to translate, but said that people still need some kind of training to ensure patients are getting the correct information. “You have to know the diagnoses and prognoses, you have to know all the diseases, understand mental health and death and dying,” Dibie said. “How do you handle somebody who needs to be told they’re dying, for example? It takes a lot of training and practice.” Dibie is hoping that even if hospitals cannot afford to pay for full-time interpreters, they still send bilingual staff members to CSUN’s training program to make sure they’re doing all they can for non-English speaking patients. The program is having some successes Dibie said that at least one hospital has agreed to take some of the program’s students as interns, and another has promised to take a look at the program should if it ever need a full-time translator on staff.
Program Aids Need for Health Care Translators