Lack of Interpreters is a Life and Death Situation for Many
By Lorena Gonzalez
There are more than 50 languages spoken more comfortable and proficiently than English by the residents in the South Bay and Mid-City San Diego neighborhoods I represent. Throughout California, this challenge is shared by more than 6.5 million Californians, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Ordering food. Asking for directions. Attending school. Interviewing for a job. Filling prescriptions. Rescheduling appointments.
No situation involving a language barrier is as frightening, though, as one that risks the life of a loved one.
I was moved, when I heard the story of Dora Beatrice Lopez-Aguilar, an immigrant mother from Mexico, whose family lives and works here in San Diego. When Dora was unable to effectively communicate with staff members at the hospital where she had just given birth, Dora’s newborn nearly died.
Dora shared, “If the cleaning lady had not stopped by my room, when she heard me screaming for help and then gone to get a nurse, I don’t know what would have happened to my baby.”
As a mother, I cannot imagine the debilitating horror of not being able to fight to save my children’s lives simply because my words were not enough.
Dora is just one out of approximately 2.5 million people in our state’s healthcare program, who are in desperate need of the assistance of an interpreter. With nearly half of new Medi-Cal patients also with an inhibiting language barrier, the challenge in attending to these residents with the care they deserve continues to grow and perpetuate.
California must effectively implement and sufficiently support programs that create interpreter jobs for bilingual members of our community.
The Affordable Care Act allows for millions of federal dollars to fund access to interpreters in the Medi-Cal program. Accessing that money is vital in connecting Californians to the care they and their families need.
But it is not enough for us to provide interpreters, however. It is imperative that we also monitor the quality of interpretation available to our residents. It has been reported that even patients of San Diego’s own famed medical institutions, like UCSD Medical Center, have found it necessary to bring friends and family as supplementary interpreters because of issues involving trust and quality control. Our state must ensure our efforts are not made in vain.
Gov. Jerry Brown will be presented with the opportunity to accept these federal dollars and address the quality of care of our state’s patients. I fully support my fellow Californians, who are working tirelessly to develop the proper resources necessary to meet the language access needs of all patients. With so many lives at stake, we cannot afford to wait any longer for this much-needed lifeline.
Lorena Gonzalez represents the 80th Assembly District, which includes Chula Vista, National City and the San Diego neighborhoods of City Heights, Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, Paradise Hills, San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, in the California State Assembly.