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San Diego Refugees, Advocates Call For More Medical Translators

Photo by Susan Murphy

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.

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