:: to the teeth ::    thoughts on social justice, medicine, race, hope and beats

"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." :: Arundhati Roy ::

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." :: Alice Walker ::
Saturday, April 09, 2005  

Civil rights Lawsuit - Interpretation / Translation Services at our Public Hospital

This week marks the launching of a legal challenge 8 years in the making. Advocates for Native Americans (Navajo), Spanish speaking immigrants/citizens and Vietnamese refugees announced publicly this past friday that with the help of the NM Center on Law and Poverty and the ACLU the University Hospital will face a legal challenge for it's poor performance in providing interpreter and translator services.

To put it plain and simple, in the words of Kieth Franklin, advocate for Navajo Nation members living in Albuquerque - "We do not want to be treated as second class citizens."

The legal challenge is based on data from the hospital showing that over 40,000 requests for language interpretation per year are not met. Patients leave the hospital with large bills with no understanding or explanation of what was done, what the future might hold, what the treatment plan is, etc. Parents go for days or even weeks without knowing what is happening to their child. Pregnant moms have lost their babies in natural miscarriage and not been given the basic information about what had occurred, leaving the hospital believing their fetus is still alive. Children are expected to interpret complex medical and emotional realities for their parents and grandparents when they might not even be truly bilingual or old enough to understand the implications of the information.

I participated in alot of bad interpretation medical encounters as a resident. I didn't know then or understand the depth of the implications every time I let a situation pass without calling in for backup. I spoke limited proficiency Spanish at that point and thought myself adequate to the task. Now I understand with better language skills and more access to seeing the mistakes made in the system how wrong that was. Of course at the time there were no viable solutions. there were no interpreters to call for help. we did have access to a phone system that was burdensome to use if your time was limited, as well as not being easily available in key places like OB testing and triage and the ER.

What i realize now is that it was beyond my power at that point to fix the problem. Now after four years of working on this problem at the economic and political level outside the hospital, aware of all the data and studies and laws, I realize that the problem is PREJUDICE, not economics, not lack of knowledge. Simple logic would tell you that having adequate interpretation services would save people's lives, would diminish their fears and worries greatly, would help them feel respected, feel dignity, express themselves intelligently. it would certainly cost some money. health is an investment. kindness is an investment. it's not free. it would mean the hospital would have to balance their budget with a different set of priorities. bottom line human dignity, not profit, corruption and greed. this is doable.

We'll see where this legal action takes us. It is my hope that the hospital will choose an alternative pathway, one of respecting their communities needs, invest some money in interpreters and not spend a dime defending an indefensible position of racism with out public tax dollars.


posted by andru | 4/09/2005 05:38:00 PM | |


They should be looking at KUMC (kansas med ctr) as a model. I could get a translator within 10 minutes for almost any language.

Not only was there a staff of translators hired by the hospital, but there was a list of hospital professionals (RNs, MDs, OTs, RTs) who spoke additional languages who could be pulled away from their other jobs to translate as needed, all coordinated by the translation office. All it took was one call.

For a university/bureaucratic entity, KU actually had some excellent policies.

I don't miss much about Kansas, but I DO miss KU.

# posted by Blogger Jodie : 5/28/2005 6:11 AM  

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