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Speaking the same tongue - Wyckoff Hospital’s translation services lauded by group

Wyckoff Heights Medical Center earned high marks from Make the Road New York this month in a comprehensive report showing that the availability of language assistance is improving throughout New York City hospitals.

“Translation and interpretation services help people stay healthy whether you are in a pharmacy, clinic, or hospital setting,” said Theo Oshiro, a health advocate with Make the Road New York. “Things are improving significantly at city hospitals with more interpreters and speedy services. We have seen huge improvements at Wyckoff hospital since we first started monitoring the quality of their language access services in 2002.”

Make the Road members, assisted by the Korean Community Services and the New York Immigration Coalition, surveyed over six hundred limited English proficient (LEP) patients in public and private hospitals in the city and found that 64 percent received assistance in their native language, compared with 29 percent before 2006. In the Make the Road Study, 70 percent of patients said they talked to Wyckoff Hospital staff in Spanish at their last appointment. Fifty percent of patients reported communicating with bilingual hospital staff, twenty percent said they communicated through an interpreter provided by the hospital, 26 percent said they communicated through a telephonic device, and 30 percent said they relied on a family member or friend for interpretation. Thirty-four percent of patient respondents said they knew that the hospital provided free translation services.

“Our biggest challenge is letting the patient know the services are here so they can take advantage of them,” said Kathleen Kernizan, director of Public Affairs at Wyckoff Hospital. “They don’t have to pay for an interpreter, wait for a long time or bring a family member to receive interpretation services.”

Wyckoff Heights Medical Center instituted a translation services program in February 2003 following a MRNY survey concerning language services and complaint filed with the State Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights regarding the violation of patient rights. Wyckoff Hospital was one of the first sites Make the Road approached.

“We didn’t have guidelines per se, so we got a list of volunteer interpreters and had the language line in place,” said Lizette Hernandez, Language Assistant Coordinator at Wyckoff Hospital. “It was just a matter of getting the list of interpreters out and tying together administrative fronts.”

Wyckoff hired two full-time administrators to coordinate language services identified 30 staff members for updated and extensive training in medical terminology in Spanish, Polish, Italian, Romanian and American Sign Language. A new director of Patient Relations was hired in January this year to further improve patient services, particularly reducing wait times in the emergency room, adding signage in multiple languages in the hospital’s corridors, and expanding one on one bilingual counseling during a patient’s hospital stay.

“Relatives would have to take days off from school to help translate,” said Joann Purcell, director of Patient Relations at Wyckoff Hospital. “Now, with the retraining of staff, the number of relatives coming in are going down.”

According to Wyckoff staff members, Make the Road has helped the hospital provide feedback during its reorganization of patient services, particularly reports that show what services are provided in other hospitals and what services Wyckoff has that other hospitals do not. Kernizan noted that few hospitals provide services for Korean-Americans or Haitian Creole-Americans in their native languages.

Make the Road members are pleased that Wyckoff has been able to help patients better community with their doctors over care and receive counseling from bilingual staff members during their stay, which will help patients open up more about their medical ailments and receive the proper treatment.

“While there is still room for improvement at Wyckoff, the hospital deserves credit for the significant improvements that they have made to ensure access to limited English proficient patients,” Oshiro said.

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