by Kevin Brown | August 29, 2013
A lack of language interpreters in California hospitals is endangering patients with limited ability to speak English, and a statewide advocacy group and AFSCME members are working to bring change.
Interpreting for California is building political support alongside Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez of Los Angeles, organizing constituents, politicians, community activists and labor leaders to pass a bill that would create a program giving patients across the state access to medical interpreters. The bill, AB 1263, could benefit nearly seven million limited-English-proficient Californians, including three million who are expected to join the state’s public health insurance system (Medi-Cal) over the next five years.
The interpreters program is urgently needed. Communication between doctors and patients is critical to avoid misdiagnosis or unnecessary treatments that could result in injury or death. But the current system is rife with inadequate staffing levels standards and supervision.
During a recent interview with the LA Times, Julio Perez, an Interpreting for California advocate, reflected on his experience as an interpreter for his 4-year-old brother.
“It was very distressing, because I didn’t know if the information I was interpreting was correct,” said Perez. “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.” Perez’s brother eventually died of a blood infection.
Supporters believe AB 1263 will ensure that what happened to Julio Perez and his family doesn’t happen again. The bill requires that certified contractors are made available to patients with limited English proficiency. The certification process would ensure that contractors can accurately communicate medical terminology to speakers of other languages.
If AB 1263 passes, thousands of Medi-Cal medical interpreters will have the right to join a public employees’ union and collectively bargain with the state.