Pa­tient in­ter­preters speak up

Hos­pi­tal in­ter­preters get cre­den­tialed with new cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams

Modern Healthcare - - Front Page - Joe Carl­son

It wasn’t dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out which or­tho­pe­dic ex­am­i­na­tion room Maria Men­doza was in on a re­cent Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at Chicago’s Mount Si­nai Hos­pi­tal. She was in­side the one with the red flag out­side the door that said “In­ter­preter.”

Lan­guage in­ter­pre­ta­tion for pa­tients with limited English pro­fi­ciency is con­sid­ered such an in­te­gral part of op­er­a­tions at the safety-net hos­pi­tal on Chicago’s Near West Side that even or­tho­pe­dics exam rooms have mounted flags out­side to in­di­cate when the in­ter­preter is in.

“It is good. I will go where there are in­ter­preters,” Men­doza says, in­ter­pret­ing for a Span­ish-speak­ing pa­tient in an in­ter­view.

“The world is small now, we come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and dif­fer­ent lan­guages. We need in­ter­preters,” says the pa­tient’s or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon, Nishitku­mar Pa­tel. “It is an in­dis­pens­able part of de­liv­er­ing health­care for Mount Si­nai.”

Yet Men­doza, like the vast ma­jor­ity of med­i­cal in­ter­preters in the U.S., does not pos­sess a na­tion­ally rec­og­nized cre­den­tial in her pro­fes­sion. That’s be­cause un­til just a year ago, no na­tional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion was of­fered by any group, de­spite more than 25 years of ef­fort to of­fer one in the field.

To­day, two sep­a­rate Washington-based or­ga­ni­za­tions are be­gin­ning what in­sid­ers say will be a long process of of­fer­ing na­tional cre­den­tials and then up­grad­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions for med­i­cal in­ter­preters across the coun­try.

The quicker of the two groups to of­fer a med­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion cre­den­tial, the Na­tional Board of Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for Med­i­cal In­ter­preters, has granted more than 80 for cer­ti­fied med­i­cal in­ter­preters. Mean­while, the Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Com­mis­sion for Health­care In­ter­preters be­gan of­fer­ing test­ing through a pi­lot pro­gram in Oc­to­ber, with plans to ac­cept its next class of prospec­tive na­tion­ally cer­ti­fied in­ter­preters in Jan­uary.

Men­doza’s man­ager, Noemi Car­rillo— di­rec­tor of the in­ter­preter ser­vice at Mount Si­nai—says she’s anx­ious to start the process of get­ting her staff of 14 full-time and 11 part- time in­ter­preters fully cre­den­tialed.

Cur­rently, the only op­tions avail­able are those that have long ex­isted, such as cer­tifi­cate pro­grams at col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. Grad­u­ates of those pro­grams may then also be sub­ject to vary­ing lev­els of state-based cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ef­forts. Ex­perts say the in­ten­sity of the train­ing and the thor­ough­ness of the state­based cer­ti­fi­ca­tions vary widely be­tween or­ga­ni­za­tions, prompt­ing the need for na­tional stan­dard­iza­tion.

“It’s way, way past due. We in­ter­preters have been wait­ing for the long­est time for some­thing like this,” says Edgardo Gar­cia, di­rec­tor of Lan­guage Ac­cess Ser­vices at Chil­dren’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Dal­las, where hu­man re­sources of­fi­cials re­cently agreed to pay ex­penses for its staff in­ter­preters who take and pass the exam of­fered by the Na­tional Board of Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for Med­i­cal In­ter­preters.

The staff of 25 full-time and 22 part-time in­ter­preters han­dled 160,000 pa­tient en­coun­ters in 2009 be­tween the hos­pi­tal’s

Or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon Nishitku­mar Pa­tel works with in­ter­preter Maria Men­doza while see­ing a pa­tient at Mount Si­nai Hos­pi­tal in Chicago. Pa­tel says in­ter­preters are “in­dis­pens­able” at the hos­pi­tal.

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