When Gabriela Jenicek, MA, CDM, Director of CHOP’s Language Services Program, conceived of a gathering of local hospital leaders working in language access and health literacy and community leaders, she didn’t envision the innovative proposal that would stem from that event.

Jenicek, fortified by a CHOP Cares Community Grant and in partnership with the Pennsylvania Health Literacy Coalition, invited a wide variety of voices and perspectives to the Language Access Leadership Summit. The objective was to improve language access to healthcare for patients and families with limited English proficiency (LEP) in the Greater Philadelphia area.

“We didn’t invite the interpreters themselves,” says Jenicek of the November 2017 event held at CHOP. “We would have been preaching to the choir.”

Miriam Enriquez and Glenn Flores Miriam Enriquez, Director of immigrant affairs for the City of Philadelphia, gave the opening remarks, and Glenn Flores, MD, Chief Research Officer at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, delivered the keynote address Instead, she brought together grassroot organizations on the frontline of helping refugees and immigrants get settled in the region and the agencies and healthcare institutions aiming to serve them. All 120 seats at the summit were filled. Everyone shared their struggles, many that were based in the lack of language access. Healthcare had some problems, but access to schools, legal, social and government services, and basic business transactions were also hindered because LEP families couldn’t understand or make themselves understood.

From keynote speaker Glenn Flores, MD, Chief Research Officer at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, attendees learned of the inequities and errors that can happen when an untrained person serves as an interpreter. Being bilingual isn’t enough; specific training is required.

“It confirmed that language access is not where it should be. There is a lot that needs to be done regarding interpreter education, provider education and client education,” Jenicek says.

We need more trained interpreters

The group concluded the priority was to increase the pool of interpreters by training more bilingual individuals to become highly proficient interpreters.

“Now, there are classes you can take over a few weekends and get a certificate, or there are masters-level programs,” Jenicek says. “There is nothing in between.”

When Jenicek presented this problem to CHOP Senior VP of External Affairs Peter Grollman, he introduced her to the director of the Department of Commerce for the city of Philadelphia, who introduced her to people in the Office of Workforce Development, who then connected her with people at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP).

“We all agreed we needed an academic pipeline for this job,” Jenicek says. “What’s most exciting is that everyone saw the benefit of it right away.”

Since then, a coalition — which also includes Philadelphia’s Office of Adult Education and Office of Immigrant Affairs plus stakeholders from the courts, the school system, interpreter associations, language services providers, hospitals, community organizations working with refugees and immigrants, and English as a Second Language educators — has been busy creating curriculum for an associate’s degree in language interpretation at CCP. The new, two-year program would properly prepare students to interpret in all sorts of settings: medical, legal, school, government and business.

Students in the program must enter with proven proficiency in two languages. From her experience, Jenicek says most will be native speakers of another language who will need to pass an English proficiency test to enroll. Classes at CCP are scheduled to begin fall 2021.

“CHOP is excited to be part of spearheading a pipeline to provide trained foreign language interpreters,” Jenicek says. “It will benefit the entire Philadelphia community.”

Next Steps

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