Mayor Lee Joins Legislators In Support Of Bill To Increase Number Of Medical Interpreters

State Assembly Speaker John Perez joined San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other state legislators at a North Beach community health center this morning in support of a bill that proposes increasing the number of medical interpreters for residents with limited English skills.

At North East Medical Services at 1520 Stockton St., where most of the patients’ first language is Chinese, Korean or other non-English languages, Perez, D-Los Angeles, discussed Assembly Bill 2325, hailing it as a way to ensure that residents receive proper medical care despite language barriers.

As part of the bill introduced by Perez last Friday, the state Department of Health Care Services would establish a program to provide and reimburse medical interpreter services for those enrolled in the state’s health care program, MediCal.

The bill would expand on existing law that provides interpreters for qualified low-income residents by having more interpreters available in emergency situations and providing remote interpreter services for patients speaking uncommon languages, according to Perez.

Up to 75 percent of funding for the services is eligible to come from a federal matching program, he said.

Speaking first in Tagalog and then Spanish, Perez said, “Don’t let health care get lost in translation.”

He said more than 40 percent of state residents speak a language other than English at home and that 7 million California residents have difficulty speaking English. There are approximately 200 languages and dialects spoken throughout the state, according to Perez.

He said proper patient care depends on understanding medical professionals. Miscommunication and poor understanding of difficult medical and technical terms can leave English language learners misdiagnosed or undergoing unnecessary testing.

“When speaking with a doctor it is absolutely critical the doctor can understand and correctly diagnose your symptoms,” Perez said.

He said immigrant families often rely on English-speaking children to translate medical conversations instead of qualified and trained interpreters.

Mayor Lee said the bill makes sure more residents are accessing health care.

“We have got to make sure health care is for everyone,” he said.

The deadly Asiana Airlines crash last July at San Francisco International Airport showed the need for culturally competent emergency and medical crews with mostly Korean and Chinese passengers onboard, the mayor said.

Lee said he is eternally grateful to the EMS and hospital staff who were able to work with the crash victims despite language and cultural barriers.

Despite some gaps in language assistance in the medical and emergency response community, Perez praised the response at SFO following the crash.

“Had the Asiana accident happened in any other city in the country, there would have been a much higher death toll,” Perez said.

Three people died in the July 6 crash and its aftermath.

State Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said the bill ensures that as more state residents enroll in health care programs under Covered California, they can speak with their nurses and doctors.

“It doesn’t help people to give them insurance if they can’t receive care,” Ting said.

He said having children act as interpreters is an “awkward situation.”

A patient at NEMS, Un Un Che, shared her story about using her daughter, who was in fifth grade, to translate forms and conversations with UCSF doctors after her younger daughter broke her arm.

Through a translator, Che said, “This is not just my story, but the story of many immigrant families.”

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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