Imagine the helpless feeling a limited- or non-English-speaking patient likely has when entering a bustling hospital. They may feel overwhelmed, lost and confused. This is a reality for many patients and families who come to our hospitals every year.
To help these Limited English Proficiency, or LEP, patients, our Patient Experience team provides foreign-language interpretation services. The Patient Experience department is part of the UF Health Sebastian Ferrero Office of Clinical Quality and Patient Safety.
The team has three full-time, nationally certified Spanish medical interpreters, one on-call interpreter, three LEP ambassador volunteers (who are UF students), American Sign Language interpreters and more than 100 authorized interpreters, who are bilingual UF Health faculty and staff who have taken language testing to assist foreign-language patients in the medical environment.
Along with these interpreters, every LEP patient is provided with a CyraCom interpreter phone or access to 24/7 video interpretation services. The phones can be used when in-person medical interpreters are not available and/or for patients who speak languages not covered by our interpreters, faculty or staff. The phone system provides immediate access to interpretation in 200 languages.
Two of the three Patient Experience LEP ambassador volunteers, Carlos Sobrino and Camila Rodriguez, work weekly shifts with LEP patients to provide caring and community. While the main goal of the LEP program is to ensure that all nursing and medical staff are aware when a patient is LEP and requires interpreter support, the ambassadors also pride themselves on making genuine connections and forming professional relationships with the patients.
Sobrino, who has been an LEP ambassador volunteer for almost a year, said the program is important to him because of the personal connections.
“Growing up, my mom would bring me to her doctor appointments to act as her interpreter because she had difficulty understanding English and often felt misunderstood by her physicians,” said Sobrino, who grew up speaking Spanish. “As a child I quickly learned the implications that a language barrier can have on an individual, not only physically, but also emotionally.”
Rodriguez, who hopes to be a bilingual speech pathologist, said that during her weekly three-hour shift, she visits patients and, sometimes, even calls former patients to follow up with them. She said having the opportunity to follow patients through their health care journey is one of her favorite aspects of the LEP ambassador program. On these phone calls, she also gets feedback from the patients, which she says is almost always positive.
“My favorite part about this program is the immediate impact you see,” Rodriguez said. “There is nothing better than talking to the patient and seeing their face light up, and the gratitude they express when they find out about these services.”
The ambassador program began in January 2017 and has maintained at least one active volunteer. With three volunteers, the team hopes to reach even more patients.
“Having access to the program ensures LEP patients are aware of the free language access services available to them while they are staying in the hospital,” said Anne Meiring, LCSW, CPXP, Patient Experience team patient experience and language-access improvement specialist.
To become part of the ambassador program, you don’t have to know a second language, but it is preferred. Ambassadors need to be enthusiastic about helping people through difficult times and maintain a positive attitude. Please contact Anne Meiring at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.