Recently, GALA asked Louis Provenzano, longtime interpreting advocate and former CEO of Language Line Services, about his new foundation to support interpreter training and certification. We also asked Izabel Arocha, Executive Director of the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), to share some of her insights on this topic. Here is what they had to say:
GALA: What is the mission of the foundation?
Louis Provenzano: The Foundation’s principle mission is to provide funding that is sorely needed for the training expenses as well as the application costs for the tests from The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters to get certified as a medical interpreter.
Izabel Arocha: The Louis Provenzano Foundation will be a great resource for those that advocate for safe and accurate communication between providers and patients who do not speak English. Until we have all interpreters nationally certified, we simply cannot ascertain which interpreters are minimally competent to interpret in a health care situation. It is too risky to leave it up to hospitals to assess language and interpreting skills. National certification has been well accepted and hospitals can save money now that they can opt to hire previously trained and qualified nationally certified medical interpreters.
GALA: Why is medical interpreting so important?
LP: Often the difference between life and death is being understood. Just as you rightfully would expect a medical doctor, nurse or an anesthesiologist to be trained and credentialed, it must be no different for medical interpreters. The medical interpreters are the vital link in removing the language barrier between the patient and the medical team. It is critical that medical interpreters be certified and credentialed. Would you go to a surgeon that was not properly trained and credentialed? I am sure not —it is the same for medical interpreters that play such a pivotal role in removing language barriers in the medical field.
GALA: Why do interpreters need assistance in training and certification?
LP: The expenses to get trained and prepared for the National Board test and the test fees itself are an expense for which many medical interpreters need financial assistance. The Louis F. Provenzano foundation aims to help interpreters that need financial assistance so that they have the possibility of being credentialed and certified in a manner that does not cause any financial hardship.
IA: The demand for qualified medical interpreters keeps growing. The Foundation seems to address a major obstacle to national certification. Funding. Fully bilingual individuals who have the language proficiency to be trained and certified as medical interpreters sometimes lack the financial means to do so. Training has shifted from short intensive occupational programs to costlier university educational programs. Training is a pre-requisite to sit for the National Board Exams. After training takes place then cost might become a barrier to take the national certification exam as well. This has delayed the process and states cannot require national certification until we have a large enough number of certified medical interpreters (CMIs) to cover the needs of language minority patients.
GALA: How does the foundation work with the National Board and the IMIA?
LP: My foundation will shortly announce a formal Board of Directors and will shortly finalize the 501(c)(3) status to start the fund raising process. The Foundation will work with various members of the National Board and the IMIA to ensure that there exists a fair and transparent standard for grants to be distributed. As a co-founder of the National Board, my foundation will work closely with the IMIA and the National Board to ensure that this process is a fair and transparent process for grants.
GALA: How can interpreters apply for grants?
LP: Once the criteria for grants have been agreed by IMIA, The National Board, and the Foundation, there will be full details made available for medical interpreters that are interested in getting certified. At that time medical interpreters can visit the websites of the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, IMIA or the Foundation for further information. All three organizations will be making this information readily available for interested parties.
GALA: How are you fundraising and how can others get involved?
LP: We plan to go to the various different hospital foundations such as Kaiser Permanente Foundation and other large charity organizations to seek funds for the Foundation. Additionally, there are many corporations and philanthropic individuals that have already expressed an interest in assisting the Foundation. There are numerous discussions underway with Government Health and Social Services that are interested in playing a key role to support the cause of certified medical interpreters for the United States and ensuring patient safety in all languages.
IA: I am very pleased that all those that advocate for safe language access in healthcare now will be able to support the Foundation by providing funding for this process to take place in a larger scale. Our ultimate goal in the IMIA is to get every medical interpreter certified in the future, to ensure the safety of language minority patients.
The Foundation welcomes all volunteers and those interested in looking to support the cause should contact Maria Schwieter, Interim Chair of the National Board at IMIAChair@certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org for more information.