Overcoming the language barrier: Translators in hospitals

Overcoming the language barrier: translators in hospitals/Shannon Lilly (WGXA)

MACON, Ga. (WGXA) - At just 10-years-old, Jorge Buenrostro and his mom packed their bags to leave their home in Mexico to join his father and sister for a new destination: South Carolina.

Now 23-years-old, Buenrostro said overcoming the language barrier was the hardest part.

"It took me about six months to kind of comprehend a little," he said. "But it took me about two years to start speaking and understanding better."

With no internet and very little access to transportation, Buenrostro said he relied on a Spanish-to-English dictionary to get by.

He said day-to-day tasks were never easy.

"When you come from other countries, in order to be able to go to school, you have to make sure you have all the immunizations required by the government here or by the school system," Buenrostro said. "So it was hard trying to go to the doctor here and explain to them that I already had the shots."

Buenrostro isn't alone. There are millions of others across the nation who experience situations just like this one.

According to US Census Data from 2016, about 40 percent of Spanish speakers across the nation - including Bibb County - speak English less than "very well." That same census report also shows more than 40 percent of Asian language speakers also fall into that category.

Liliana Billingsley, a coordinator with the Department of Language and Interpretation at Navicent Health, sees the need for translators in hospitals first-hand.

"Anything that has to do with healthcare is hard to navigate through in English, so much more in another language," Billingsley said.

She said they receive about 10-20 calls a day of people needing translators, and about one to two calls of deaf patients needing assistance every week.

Billingsley's job requires connecting that patient to a phone line offering translation in more than 200 languages - or for the deaf, an online service for video interpreting.

"It takes away the fear," she said. "It makes the patient relax a little better when you speak in their native language. So it's important to have that communication with the patient."

Billingsley said hospitals are now required by law to offer those services for free as an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that was passed in 2016.

It states that any limited-English speakers or deaf patients have the right to access a qualified interpreter.

"It's not enough to be bilingual and speak two languages," Billingsley said. "It has to be somebody trained in medical terminology."

In the winter of 2017, Buenrostro said his mom went into the hospital following two heart attacks. Years after moving from Mexico and countless hours in English study, Buenrostro said he initially declined a translator.

"I guess with all the emotions going on, I really didn't think about it," he said.

But his family was given one anyway. Buenrostro said during those crucial moments, it made all the difference.

"You don't think at the moment," Buenrostro said. "But then you realize later on how important it is to have an interpreter to actually explain to you and make not just us as family, but the patient feel comfortable enough to know what's actually going on."

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