Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of three refugee resettlement areas in Michigan. The medical community has recognized a critical need for interpreters to help doctors and caregivers communicate with refugee patients. This project will address that need by establishing a centralized interpreter bank at Metropolitan Hospital that will network with partner satellite sites in the Grand Rapids area to allow patients, providers, and interpreters to communicate in real time via video. The centralized bank will recruit, hire, and train interpreters to address three primary languages: Serbo-Croatian, Vietnamese, and Spanish. Successful candidates will complete a six-week interpreter-training program that will include lessons on practices specific to a medical setting. In each refugee community there are people who served as nurses and other medical professionals in their native countries. A Metropolitan Hospital survey found that the greatest need for interpretation services is in outpatient surgery and the lab. In the first stage of the project, therefore, video equipment will be placed in those areas, and will also be placed in exam rooms at the Breton Health Center, an ambulatory care site that serves a large refugee clientele.
This project is the first known use of videoconferencing technology to connect skilled interpreters with patients and health care providers in a refugee resettlement area. Over 900 refugees are arriving in Grand Rapids each year. Medical establishments across the community are struggling to provide competent interpreters and are facing rising costs in accessing translation services. It will increase the supply of quality interpreters and help create greater efficiencies in the time and cost of accessing interpretation services. The current lack of skilled interpreters to meet the healthcare needs of refugees has drawn the attention both of the national media and Michigan's Governor and elected officials. Significant legal, ethical, and financial difficulties can arise when people are not able to communicate effectively with their healthcare providers, a right which U.S. law secures for everyone. This project will seek to develop a model for addressing the current communication problem in a manner that can easily be replicated in other communities. The model may also be extended to other populations with limited English proficiency that require interpretation, such as illegal aliens, non-refugee immigrants, migrant workers, persons with hearing impairments, and persons with learning disabilities.
The partners include Grand Rapids area hospitals and some of their affiliate sites. The primary partners are Spectrum Health, St. Mary's Mercy Medical Center, and Pine Rest Mental Health Services. Other partners include the Kent County Health Department, Catholic Human Development Outreach, and Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine.