The Chicken and The Egg and The Interpreter

chicken or egg

The case of the chicken and the egg.

Recently, in California’s Coachella Valley, local Deaf residents met with area officials regarding the need for Sign Language Interpreters to service their communication needs in this California desert.

Recently, in California’s Coachella Valley, attempts were made to draw Sign Language Interpreters to the area to help bridge the communication gap.

The need is real.

But, is there enough work to support a professional interpreter working as an independent contractor?

Are deaf residents frustrated and considering leaving the area due to lack of services?

“Build it and they will come”

Well, not always.

Such is the dilemma.

A meeting was also held with a local hospital. If a deaf patient has a 30 minute appointment with a Doctor, they are entitled to a Sign Language Interpreter.  Interpreters usually charge a two hour minimum. If the interpreter is driving in from Riverside, California … there is typically a mileage charge added for the journey.

Most healthcare professionals will quickly point out that this appointment will cost them more than they charge the patient for services.  Very true, but still, it’s the law….because….Equal Access.

Countless Lawsuits:

There have been many. The following is just one example.

DULUTH, Minn. — Deaf patients and their families have filed dozens of complaints in recent years against Minnesota hospitals that lack sign-language interpreters, most of them in rural areas.

Minnesota Public Radio reports that many of the hospitals facing lawsuits are in rural areas of the state where there’s a shortage of sign-language interpreters. Deaf patients and organizations advocating for them say the lack of interpreters makes it difficult for them to make informed health care decisions.

An attorney with the Minnesota Disability Center said hospitals sometimes don’t make interpreter services a financial priority.

“It gets pushed way down the list of budget items,” said Rick Macpherson, who has settled 15 cases against hospitals since 2004.

But hospitals in rural areas say often the challenge is finding qualified interpreters.

“We don’t have enough interpreters in our area to be able to fulfill all the requests that come in,” said Natalie Stanley, the sign language program manager at Essentia Health East in Duluth.

Family, friends and even hospital employees who may know the necessary language “a little” have been asked to interpret for a patient. Sign language and other foreign languages alike.

Hospitals would never dream of letting a patient’s friend operate just because she can hold a scalpel. But they ask bilingual relatives to interpret all the time, disregarding how critical communication is to patient care. Get one word wrong and the consequences can be life-changing: After staff misunderstood intoxicado (Spanish for “poisoned”) as “drunk,” Florida teen Willie Ramirez received the wrong care and ended up paralyzed. In Oregon, Elidiana Valdez-Lemus died after 911 misinterpreted her address. Lack of proper translation has consequences outside of emergencies, too: Erika Williams, a second-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, summarized research to show that when there’s a language barrier, patients “receive less preventative care,” don’t take medication as prescribed, “and are more likely to leave the hospital against medical advice.”

The law currently stretches beyond the ADA. Under the Affordable Care Act, failure to provide a medical interpreter can be met with a $70,000 fine—for each encounter with a patient. Ultimately, the cost of not providing an interpreter, even if it doesn’t lead to errors, is astronomically higher than the cost of paying for one.

If interpreters are not provided, the next best step is to locate your State’s Patient Liaison and file a formal complaint. While it may not help in your immediate situation, the Health Care Facility may be put on notice – – advising them of their responsibilities regarding interpreting services. Reporting a Health Care Facility needing appropriate services may just save a life.

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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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