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San Diego Refugees, Advocates Call For More Medical Translators

Eric Le talks to reporters at San Diego City Hall about the need for more medical translators in San Diego County, June 9, 2014.

A diverse group of two dozen refugees and advocates, alongside San Diego Councilmember Marti Emerald, gathered at City Hall on Monday, holding signs that read “Interpreters Save Lives” and “Speak the Language of Care.”

One-by-one they shared stories of suffering serious health issues as a result of language barriers, such as untimely treatments and inadequate patient evaluations.

They called on Gov. Jerry Brown to sign Assembly Bill 2325, a measure to create 7,000 face-to-face interpreter jobs using millions of dollars in Affordable Care Act funds.

Emerald, whose district includes City Heights — San Diego’s most diverse neighborhood — said the language barrier problem in San Diego is enormous, especially as a more people now have health insurance and are using medical facilities for the first time.

“There are approximately 60 languages and separate dialects spoken in our schools in our stores in our doctors offices, but very few translators to help these immigrants and the refugees understand what their doctors have to say or explain to their doctors what their symptoms are, their concerns are," Emerald said.

Rahmo Abdi, a youth coordinator with Somali Youth United, said three times a week she accompanies East African refugees to doctor or hospital appointments.

"Basically, I just do this voluntarily right now," Abdi said. "When a patient comes to our office and needs an interpreter, I go with them to the doctors office and help them out."

Without interpreters like Abdi, patients rely on phone-interpreters or family members.

San Diego County is one of the top refugee resettlement locations in the nation. An average of 3,500 refugees from around the world move to the region every year.


Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | June 9, 2014 at 5:44 p.m. ― 2 years ago

"Language Access Now". How about learn to speak English??? Why does "everything" have to go the way of the illegal?

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Avatar for user 'shellymichele54'

shellymichele54 | June 9, 2014 at 8:01 p.m. ― 2 years ago

We are America, so why should we learn their languages? That wouldn't be afforded to us if we went to their god-forsaken countries. Marty Emerald you are wrong to be backing this, aren't you an American? Act like it and quit kissing butt to these foreigners!

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 10, 2014 at 7:08 a.m. ― 2 years ago

This seems like an additional incentive for speakers of those languages to study hard and enter the medical field.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | June 10, 2014 at 8:39 a.m. ― 2 years ago

How about they get off their lazy duffs and find someone of their own to take them to the free clinic who speaks English. Why is it always society's problem with these illegals? Just a bunch of moochers.

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Avatar for user 'logo'

logo | June 10, 2014 at 12:12 p.m. ― 2 years ago

read the article. refugees? Nobody leaves home unless they have to. Imagine being in a country where you don't speak the language yet, and have compassion.
The Registrar of Voters sends hundreds of bilingual poll workers from local communities for every election to assist voters in many languages. Why? because citizens of different languages have the right to vote also. English is their second language and providing bilingual materials helps the voting process.
Great pool of people to help refugees.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | June 10, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. ― 2 years ago

I see the same push for voting. The Registrar of Voters' website and polling stations offer support in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog.

What about European languages? Don't they deserve the same attention and consideration?

Oh, I forgot, the first thing European immigrants do is learn English. Hmm.

I wonder if there is any correlation. No foreign language service means you must learn English. Or, if you can do everything in your native language, why learn English?

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Avatar for user 'logo'

logo | June 10, 2014 at 2:48 p.m. ― 2 years ago

I don't see a lot of European refugees?

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Avatar for user 'logo'

logo | June 10, 2014 at 2:51 p.m. ― 2 years ago

Most Europeans learn English in primary school. Quite an advantage.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 10, 2014 at 4:27 p.m. ― 2 years ago

Everyone deserves to be understood. We should do everything possible to ease communication between different groups of people regardless of bias and bigotry.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 10, 2014 at 9:52 p.m. ― 2 years ago

DLR, Do you see the immigrants, either as individuals or as a community, as having any responsibility in bridging the communications gap? If so, what is that responsibility? The inability to communicate can certainly cause friction, but who must accommodate whom and why?

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 11, 2014 at 9:08 a.m. ― 2 years ago


Yes, the immigrants (non-English speakers) have a responsibility to learn English and American customs as soon as possible so that they may better interact with their new countrymen/neighbors. In the meantime, efforts should be made to help them assimilate. The process doesn't have to be drastic. I believe it's okay if the process takes a few years. Helping them makes us great. Ignoring their needs makes us weak. I agree with you that there are job opportunities here.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 11, 2014 at 10:34 a.m. ― 2 years ago

You Trailer park kkking, Muckkkapoop1, these people are REFUGEES. GET IT??? They are NOT undocumented workers. They are NOT Spanish language advocates. They are Somalis, Iraqi Arabs and Kurds. You know, places our wonderful imperalist armed forces have invaded and destroyed.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 11, 2014 at 10:41 a.m. ― 2 years ago

CA OFFENDER, mmmaybe if you lived in New Yawkkk between Canal St. and Kenmare, you would find ballots in Eye-talian, eh???

Now get back to your Limbo the Cheese program, I think the viagra commercial is OVER.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 11, 2014 at 10:42 a.m. ― 2 years ago

Logo, Europeans come over only as children???

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 11, 2014 at 10:57 a.m. ― 2 years ago

Learning a second language as an adult is NOT easy for anyone--especially English which is not an easy language to begin with. I'd like to see some of you English-only geniuses try it, only then come back and talk to me.

European and Latin American heads-of-state often know more than one language, even if only because they did some studying abroad. Our presidents rarely know more than a few rehearsed foreign phrases.

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Avatar for user 'batmick'

batmick | June 11, 2014 at 11:28 a.m. ― 2 years ago

And another thing the critics of such programs forget: This is about help with medical language!

I know plenty of native English speakers who have a hard time following and understanding what doctors are talking about. Your English might be good enough for getting through everyday situations but you might still want somebody more proficient to help you when your health is on the line.

Get it now?

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Avatar for user 'etm'

etm | June 11, 2014 at 2:40 p.m. ― 2 years ago

You could learn some English, too, Muckapoo1, such as how to use quotation marks correctly.

And, no, they're not illegals. They're refugees who have legal status, approved by the U.S. State Department. Many have been here only a few months, and that's not enough time to learn any language.

As for the Iraqi refugees, they wouldn't be here now if the U.S. hadn't invaded their country and left a bigger mess than was there before.

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