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Patients Protest Poor Interpretation At UCSD Medical Center

Above: Mohamed Mohamed is a senior at San Diego High School. He says he's missed several days of class - even his high school exit exam - because he has to interpret for his dad at doctors' appointments.

Aired 7/10/13 on KPBS News.

City Heights refugees continue their fight for better medical interpretation, this time taking a stand in front of the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Protesters carried signs in both English and their native languages to tell hospital administrators they're tired of relying on their children to communicate with doctors. It is illegal for medical providers to ask children to interpret for their parents.

A group of refugee patients gathered outside UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest Tuesday carrying signs that read, “To speak to me is to heal me,” and “No child should have to interpret.” Each slogan was translated into Swahili or Somali, a service the patients say they’re not getting enough of from the hospital.

The group assembled as part of a statewide effort to improve interpretation in medical settings. Interpreting for California, which is linked to AFSCME, a national public employees union, and nonprofit Mid-City CAN’s Access to Healthcare group have been collecting stories from East African, Burmese, Latino and Chinese patients who say poor communication with doctors has but them at risk.

Interpreting for California organizer Christina Griffin said the group decided to protest in front of UCSD because more and more patients are coming forward with complaints about the health system.

“At the Shiley Eye Center, we’ve heard that patients have been told not to schedule appointments if they don’t have interpreters,” Griffin said. “We’ve also heard of procedures happening without the consent or the full understanding of the patient – you know, someone signing a paper but not knowing what they’re signing. And also people under the age of 18, and in some circumstances younger than teenage age, being used as interpreters.”

It is illegal for medical providers to rely on children to translate. All must provide access to language services.

UC San Diego spokesman Aaron Byzak said the hospital is in compliance with state and federal laws on interpretation. He said the hospital has five Spanish-language interpreters, a 24-hour phone service that offers interpretation in 200 languages and a teleconferencing program in 150 languages.

One in five insured patients will be non-native English speakers once the Affordable Care Act rolls out.

“We actually have a very robust interpreters program, but we’re always interested in improving if there are challenges,” Byzak said.

A bill making its way through the state Legislature would improve access to face-to-face interpretation by reimbursing the service through Medi-Cal. Currently, providers often don't have a way to pay for interpreters. A separate bill would require pharmacies to use translated prescription drug labels already available through the state’s Board of Pharmacy.

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Avatar for user 'beachydee'

beachydee | July 9, 2013 at 6:15 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

I am a nurse and have been turned down for job opportunities because as a citizen of the United States of America, my own country, I do not speak a foreign language. While i sympathize with some of these stories, I do not think it is fair that if you refuse to learn our countries' language, you can protest and make it harder for medical professionals to meet the language requirements to obtain employment....I wonder if their countries adhere to the same standards

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | July 9, 2013 at 9:11 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

My friend was in the hospital recently and the attending nurse was from the Philippines and had a very heavy accent. I couldn't understand much of what she was saying.

It is scary to be entrusting your health to someone if you can't understand what they are saying.

San Diego's hospitals and clinics should be equipped to deal with people that live in our community, but more obscure languages are a challenge if we don't have a large population of speakers.

I didn't realize we had a large population of immigrants from Burma ?

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Avatar for user 'Marley7906'

Marley7906 | July 10, 2013 at 9:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

beachydee- there is a huge difference in "refusing" to learn a language and struggling to do so between adjusting to a new culture, dealing with trauma as a result of persecution, and trying to find a job to support your family. Besides these issues, ESL classes are impacted and students often have difficulty arranging transportation to the classes even if they can enroll.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | July 10, 2013 at 11:38 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps the Swahili and Somali speaking communities should provide more trained medical professionals available for the hospitals to hire.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 10, 2013 at 1:32 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

MARLEY7006, good post.

I was recently at Sharp,( not for myself), the one along 163. When I asked for directions to a floor, I asked what my guess was a CNA. She had a very heavy undiscepherable accent and could not understand my simple question! Nothing against accents at all. I'm not one of those "English only" chauvinists as people who are familiar with my posts can attest, but in the health care/medical industry, good oral communications skills in English are a must.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | July 10, 2013 at 4:36 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Beachydee, good point.

Employment discrimination towards English speakers is on the rise. At some point in the not too distant future, I expect American English will devolve into a pidgin language or simply become a foreign language.

Duck and Mission,

I agree. Healthcare professionals must be able to speak proper and clear English. It is a requirement for pilots and air traffic controllers, why not in healthcare professionals?

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