Passavant Breaks Down Language Barriers Through Creating Qualified Interpreters

by Anna Ferraro

Imagine yourself in this scenario. It was a long week at work, and now that the weekend’s here, you’re totally down with the flu that’s been hanging out with you for the past three weeks. And not just any flu, this seems to be settling deep in your chest. Saturday night comes, and you’re having difficulty breathing. You decide to drive yourself to the ER to get some assistance. There at the ER, the doctors and nurses are helpful and able to relieve some of your more severe symptoms. You have a light case of pneumonia, so they begin to explain the treatment and recovery process to you. And stop. Because your first language isn’t English. You’re really only able to understand about one-third of what they’re saying…. which isn’t good when they’re handing over prescriptions and directions…

And such is the case of many individuals in our area of Illinois. In speaking of the diversity of languages among the patient population in this area, Joan Englemann, Interpreter Coordinator at Passavant Area Hospital stated, “I feel like we have the largest need in the area, so we should have the best services in the area.”

Starting out as a non-certified interpreter in high school, Englemann offered her services to her deaf friends. Over the past 20 years, interpreting has become her career. Graduating with her degree in deaf education from MacMurray College, completing her Master’s in interpretation, then going on to teach at Illinois School for the Deaf, Englemann shares that her motivation was “love of the language and love of the culture.”

She says that over the years, “I was always getting called by Passavant to come out and interpret for their patients.” When the calls became so plenteous, Passavant opened up a full-time interpreter position in 2008. Englemann stepped into it with ease, being more than qualified to not just interpret, but also manage the interpretative roles through the hospital and with other staff.

Since 2009, increasing regulations and laws are requiring patients to have qualified interpreters when they are at the hospital. “The best way to prove qualification is through certification,” stated Englemann. As such, under her direction, Passavant is implementing a certification program for their interpreters – currently, three full-time interpreters on staff, and over 30 interpreters that they regularly contract with.

While already offering the standard interpreter tests from CCHI, Passavant receives interpreter referrals from Springfield Clinic, St. John’s Hospital, and Memorial Health Clinic as well. However, the certification testing requires that the interpreter must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalent, have 40 hours of healthcare interpreter training, and have linguistic proficiency in English and the primary language for which they are seeking a credential. The 40 hours of interpreter training is usually the barrier that keeps interpreters from becoming certified and becoming able to broadly use their skills.

In 2017, under Englemann’s direction, Passavant has been focusing on expanding their role to become a training site for certification, in addition to just a testing site. Through offering a full-fledged training course, Passavant aims to allow interpreters to complete their certification and their testing so that they are free to use their skills well.

With plans to offer a beta course in spring 2017 for a discounted rate, Englemann’s time is occupied in gathering information, spreading the word to interpreters, preparing materials, and doing the myriad of other things that go into becoming a qualified training center.

Englemann shared that the motivation for taking on this project mainly stemmed from “bad experiences.” She commented, “I’ve seen trust issues between patients and their caregivers because they don’t feel like they’re compliant – patient satisfaction or medical errors are at risk.” In addition, Englemann is aware of stories from other hospitals where an interpreter’s mistakes resulted in a lawsuit. She stated, “We want to make sure that we’re getting interpreters that are better for our patients and our staff to trust as well.”

Englemann continued, “We think it’s going to help the patient’s a lot – really it’s about making sure that patient’s and their healthcare providers are communicating effectively with each other.” She further explained, “The work is not about the interpreter, it’s about the work we produce. [In the past], we have had to hire based on an interview, but we haven’t been able to judge their product of their interpreting.” Englemann’s vision is for their testing and certification courses to be able to change that.

Looking at the present and future need, Englemann said, “Because of our unique population in this area, we have the opportunity to lead the way in being a place where people can grow professionally, but also know that they’re broadening their horizons. At this point, we want to be ahead of the game, and [offer testing and certification] before it’s mandated.”

In conclusion, Englemann stated, “We really want to make sure that it’s good for the patients – my long-term dream is to have several [certified] staff interpreters, and us making sure that we have the best services in the area.”

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