Great Leap in Language

  • March 6, 2014

Natividad hospital program connects with Salinas’ indigenous community

Herald Staff Writer

It began about five years ago, when Angélica Isidro of Greenfield was asked by neighbors to translate medical instructions they received at the Natividad Medical Center emergency room.

Isidro, a native of Oaxaca, México, who speaks the Mixteco indigenous language, would drive neighbors back to Natividad so she could interpret for them.

Isidro, in turn, told hospital officials what her neighbors were saying.

“’We’re not very happy about the care we get at Natividad. Nobody understands our needs,’” said Linda Ford, president of the Natividad Medical Foundation, recalling what Isidro said.
Ford and Natividad’s leaders saw a need to better serve the indigenous community.

They started a medical-interpreting program that eventually led to Indigenous Interpreting +, a service that will help communities all over the United States provide interpretation in many languages.

Indigenous Interpreting + is a service of the Natividad Medical Foundation to provide not just interpreting, but training for speakers of indigenous and other languages who want to become medical interpreters.

Natividad has 10 indigenous-language interpreters, and Victor Sosa, director and co-founder of the program, has trained 68 interpreters from across the country.

“This is the first program in the United States that has 10 interpreters waiting to be called,” Ford said.
When Sosa studied Natividad patient demographics to provide translation and interpretation services, he discovered 60 languages are spoken in the area.
About 50 percent of patients speak English as their first language. Forty-seven percent speak Spanish. The remainder speak an indigenous language or an Asian language such as Tagalog or Vietnamese.

Although the percentage is small, the numbers of people could be significant. The hospital wants to make sure everyone receives adequate health care services, officials said.

The top indigenous languages spoken at Natividad are Triqui, Mixteco, Zapoteco and Chatino, Ford said. All are native to Oaxaca, México.

Indigenous Interpreting + will be available to 400 hospitals nationwide, Ford said. She hopes the program eventually will be sustainable, but so far has been made possible by donations, mostly from local agricultural leaders.
The Agricultural Leadership Council, founded in 2010 by John D’Arrigo, has raised more than $1 million to support the Natividad Medical Foundation. Some money has been used for the interpretation program.

The leadership council is about “farm families helping our agricultural workers, that’s the primary mission,” D’Arrigo said. “We’re proud to support the safety-net hospital, (which) is a crucial resource in the health care of all of our workers and their families.”

Indigenous Interpreting + was formally announced amid dozens of Triqui and Mixteco indigenous residents, who attended a ceremony on Thursday dressed in traditional regalia. Women from the community prepared 500 tortillas and 500 tamales for the event.
Catalino Martinez, a Triqui speaker from Llano Nopal, said he is happy with the interpreting services available at the hospital.

“It’s for those who speak Triqui and Mixteco, too. It’s necessary. There’s women who come and don’t understand Spanish,” he said.