For the second time in a year, California lawmakers will consider a bill that would create a medical interpreters program. As Capital Public Radio’s Health Care Reporter Pauline Bartolone reports, the bill’s backers say circumstances are different this time.
This year’s bill is essentially the same as last year’s. The state would pay interpreters to help Medi-Cal patients who have limited English skills to understand their health care.
Will Shuck with the California Assembly Speaker’s office says what’s different this year is the timing.
When author Anne Fadiman first visited Merced in the late 1980s, she says more than 10,000 Hmong refugees and their children were living there. At that time, about one out of every six people living in Merced was Hmong, she says.
The hospitals were overwhelmed by the new refugee population, she recalls. Medical interpretation was not legally mandated at that time, and Merced Community Medical Center had just one Hmong interpreter. It often fell to the hospital janitor, or a family’s young child, to translate sensitive medical information to a patient.
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When Mailu Lor translates for a Hmong patient, she can’t just repeat the doctor’s orders, word for word. That’s because the Hmong language often doesn’t contain advanced medical terminology, or names for diseases, like diabetes.
“Hmong language is a very difficult language,” Lor said. “We don’t have any dictionary for medical terminology.”