By Titania Kumeh
August 18, 2013, 4:57 p.m.
Five years ago, Julio Perez’s mother didn’t understand what the doctors and nurses were saying. Her 4-year-old son, Perez’s younger brother, was on a ventilator, his health worsening as bacteria in his blood began infecting his vital organs.
But Perez said his mother didn’t know what doctors were trying to tell her when they woke her up in the hospital, sometimes at 3 in the morning, with news about her young son. She speaks limited English, Perez said, and the hospital didn’t have an interpreter available. So Perez, 19 at the time, did the interpreting for her and the doctors.
“It was very distressing, because I didn’t know if the information I was interpreting was correct,” said the Norwalk resident. “I feel like being placed in that situation added more confusion to the whole situation.” He added that “it was very difficult, just the feeling that someone’s life was depending on me.”
According to a 2012 study prepared for the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, pediatric patients with limited-English-proficient families who speak Spanish “have a much greater risk for serious medical events during hospitalizations than patients whose families are English-proficient.”
Perez’s younger brother held on for months but eventually died in the hospital of a blood infection.
That experience, Perez says, is the main reason he joined the advocacy group Interpreting for California, a coalition working with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) to pass a bill that would make a statewide medical-interpretation program available to Medi-Cal patients.
At a recent Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, Pérez and two other members of the group asked that they encourage Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill, AB 1263. It would require the state Department of Health Care Services to apply for federal money that would pay for a certified medical-interpreter program.
Such a program is needed, supporters say, to prepare hospitals for the millions of limited-English speakers expected to use healthcare services over the next few years.
Under the Affordable Care Act, about 500,000 people who speak limited English will be eligible to join Medi-Cal next year, according to a study by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, an advocacy organization in Oakland.
But language barriers could affect the safety of those patients. People with limited English proficiency face a higher risk of being misdiagnosed or receiving unnecessary treatments that could hasten their deaths, according to the bill’s supporters and health officials.
Limited-English speakers also are more likely to avoid hospitals altogether, opting for community clinics where staffers might speak their language but are not always equipped to handle certain ailments.
To read more of this article courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, click the link below.