Speaking their Language
Ypsilanti Health Center aims for culturally competent care for the Latino community
Francisca Hollis, patient services assistant at the Ypsilanti Health Center, knows how challenging it can be for Spanish-speaking patients to communicate with caregivers. Growing up in a small Mexican community with many immigrant workers, she was the only person in her family who spoke English. Family and friends relied on her to interpret during medical appointments. She remembers being pulled out of school each year to accompany her grandfather to the doctor.
“Everyday language in English is different than knowing and speaking medical terminology,” Hollis says.
The Ypsilanti Health Center is working to address the many barriers between Latino patients and preventive health care. That’s why Hollis, along with medical assistants America Jimenez and Jacqueline Simpson, participated in training to teach bilingual medical staff the specialized language skills and cultural knowledge needed to provide quality bilingual services. Hollis, Jimenez and Simpson recently graduated from the Spanish Bilingual Assistant training program. Taught by Maria Militzer from Interpreter Services, the training required giving up their free time on Saturdays for the 8-week class.
“This training was important to provide culturally competent care to our patients,” says Lourdes Velez, M.D., who is working to establish a Latino clinic at the Ypsilanti Health Center, offering care two half-days each week. There is a growing need to serve this rapidly growing group, the largest minority in the U.S.
Velez adds, “Latinos are from a collection of more than 20 Spanish-speaking countries, each with unique health practices. It is important to have culturally sensitive staff to assist providers in the care of Latino patients.”
Simpson took the training because she remembers a time in her own life when she was faced with the language barrier. Though she spoke some English when she came to the U.S. in 1984, it was difficult for her to explain a genetic condition to her physician when she was pregnant.
Jimenez says that having family members translate can be dangerous, citing the case of a pediatric patient in Arizona who died from a burst appendix. The girl was the only English-speaker in her family and couldn’t tell her parents what they needed to know about her condition.
“Spanish-speaking patients need to have preventive care instead of just coming to the hospital or clinic when they are sick,” Jimenez says. “They worry about the language, about their legal status, and I simply wanted to help the Hispanic community.”
"Ypsilanti Health Center is a wonderful and growing clinic. They have so much going on out there, keep up the wonderful work Ypsilanti you all are so wonderful!" - Mary Timmermann, Internal Medicine.
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