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Bill Supporting Translation Services For Medi-Cal Patients Moves To Gov. Brown

Photo caption: Women and their children line up for care at La Maestra Family Clinic in El C...

Photo by Kenny Goldberg

Women and their children line up for care at La Maestra Family Clinic in El Cajon. The clinic has eight doctors, nurses, or other staff who speak Arabic.

California may be on its way to bringing translation services to Medi-Cal patients who don’t speak English.

California may be on its way to bringing translation services to Medi-Cal patients who don’t speak English. A bill awaiting the Gov. Jerry Brown's signature would initiate a study on the issue and launch a pilot-program to test recommendations.

Zara Marselian, CEO of La Meastra Community Health Centers, said the measure would improve medical care for foreign-language speakers because patients wouldn't have to rely on unqualified interpreters.

"Sometimes even their children are doing the translation or somebody who's not in a health care position translates," said the head of La Maestra, a nonprofit that provides health and translation services to low-income communities, including City Heights.

According to the 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate, about 70 percent of residents living in the 92105 ZIP code, which represents most of City Heights, speak a language other than English at home.

The bill's author, Assembly Speaker Emeritus Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said AB 635 would also benefit the 7 million Californians who speak English "less than very well."

“With more than 200 languages spoken in California, there is a desperate need among low-income residents for help when it comes to communicating with doctors,” Atkins said in a statement. “AB 635 will help health care professionals better understand what their patients are experiencing and, in turn, help patients better understand the advice they’re being given. This will lead to far better health outcomes for so many Californians.”

The $3 million for the study and pilot program are included in the current state budget, according to a release on Atkins' website.

Gov. Brown has until the end of the month to sign the bill. He has previously vetoed similar measures.

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