Our Medical Interpreters Speak the Language of Health

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Growing up, Neftali Torres-Tolentino and his brothers frequently served as interpreters when their Spanish-speaking parents went to grocery stores, attended school events and visited with their health providers. Over the years, Torres-Tolentino recognized how much his parents missed because there was no one else to help them through the language barriers. He hopes to change that experience for others through his work with the Language Interpreter Network (LINCC) of ChristianaCare.

Neftali Torres-Tolentino, a patient care technician, trained as a ChristianaCare Language Interpreter to help the Latino community “trust the [health care] team because they feel like there’s somebody that is going to look out for them and interpret for them.”
Torres-Tolentino is among 19 caregivers across the health system who recently graduated from LINCC’s first all-Spanish class of qualified interpreters. The group spent five weeks learning how to help non-English speakers communicate with health professionals.

Language Services at ChristianaCare

We offer free medical interpretation services to patients and families who speak and understand a language that is not English. We also offer free sign language interpreting.

Interpreting is available in person, by phone or video.

Call 302-733-1861.

“I want to close that gap and make our Latino community feel more comfortable to come to the hospital,” said Torres-Tolentino, a patient care technician at Christiana Hospital.

“I want them to actually trust the team because they feel like there’s somebody that is going to look out for them and interpret for them.”

Caregivers were recognized during a ceremony at the Ammon Center on Sept. 30, which was also, fittingly enough, International Translation Day. They were joined by 60 colleagues and loved ones who watched the graduation virtually.

Jacqueline Ortiz, MPhil, vice president for Health Equity and Cultural Competence, said the LINCC program plays an important role in supporting the work of full-time interpreters in Language Services. Among the top 20 languages requested at ChristianaCare, 14 of those languages are covered by interpreters in the LINCC program. LINCC interpreters include caregivers from 36 countries on five continents.

Dedicated to accurate language interpretation, 19 caregivers across the health system took a pledge as they graduated from LINCC’s first all-Spanish class of qualified interpreters.

“On a simple level, they provide qualified language interpreting for individual for patients and providers at ChristianaCare,” Ortiz said.

“And they fulfill a fundamental role in health care equity for the communities that we serve. Without the presence of qualified interpreters, it’s literally impossible for patients to get equitable health care.”

LINCC usually draws a mix of bilingual caregivers who speak more than two dozen languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Arabic, Mandarin, Yoruba and more. But when the program restarted after a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, the list of interested caregivers was big enough to create a separate Spanish-speaking cohort, said Claudia Reyes-Hull, MArch, manager of operations for Cultural Competence and Language Services. This is the fifth LINCC cohort since the program started in 2015.

“When you really start understanding the linguistic and cultural barriers, when you have cultural awareness that we are all different, it becomes smoother communication,” said Claudia Reyes-Hull, MArch (center).

Having an all-Spanish class provided a unique opportunity to delve into the nuances of the Spanish language and the situations that can arise while interpreting in a medical setting. Interpreting is a complex skill that goes far beyond repeating what someone is saying. It’s listening to a set of words, what those words convey and thinking how to say that to someone in their native language. Cultural awareness also is critical, Reyes-Hull said.

“Having a Spanish-only class allows us to work together on one basic skill, such as don’t interpret word for word — interpret for meaning. In this class, because we all speak Spanish, we can actually do interpretations and show them how if you stay too close to the script, you can create misunderstanding, said Ortiz, who developed the LINCC program.

Jacqueline Ortiz, MPhil, who developed the LINCC program, said it fulfills “a fundamental role in health care equity for the communities that we serve. Without qualified interpreters, it’s literally impossible for patients to get equitable health care.”

It’s important for interpreters to understand that comprehension challenges can exist even among people fluent in the same language, said Gabriela Luzardo, RN, a LINCC graduate originally from Uruguay.

“There are words that people from my country use that someone from another country does not,” Luzardo said. “Even though we all speak the same language, we’re from different places. We actually sound different. Our dialect is very different.”

Since its start LINCC has graduated about 175 bilingual caregivers to become medical interpreters. Caregivers are nominated by their managers for the rigorous program, which includes an oral fluency test, 45 hours of medical interpreting training, a written exam and an oral skills assessment. By the time they graduate, caregivers in the program receive an interpreting certificate that is nationally accepted.

A Look at LINCC

175 medical interpreters qualified in 14 of most requested languages with caregivers from 36 countries on 5 continents.

Luz Berrios, operations coordinator for Volunteer Services, said medical interpreting services help patients feel more comfortable, valued and respected in the health system. Berrios, who trained through LINCC to become a qualified Spanish medical interpreter, said patients trust their caregivers more when an interpreter is present or virtual.

“Providing exceptional language services to our non-English speaking patients and families helps them to communicate better with their caregiver team,” she said.

“This program is an example of how ChristianaCare has gone above and beyond to demonstrate one of our behaviors, ‘We embrace diversity and show respect to everyone.’”

Santino Mattia, BA, is a translation coordinator in Language Services who works to translate written English documents into many other languages. He said the enthusiasm of his fellow caregivers in the LINCC class has been one of the most rewarding parts of the medical interpreting program. Although their roles vary across the health system, each brings a deep desire to help bridge any communication gaps between patients and providers.

As LINCC interpreter, Santino Mattia, BA, bridges gaps between language and culture among Spanish-speaking patients and their health care providers.

“I’ve seen firsthand what a lot of these bilingual caregivers are learning now about the importance of an interpreter and what they do, as opposed to just speaking in Spanish with the patient,” he added.

“The interpreter oftentimes might be the only person who’s aware that the doctor doesn’t know the culture and the patient doesn’t know that the doctor is not aware of their culture.”

That’s what makes the work of the LINCC interpreters so valuable, Reyes-Hull said.

“When you really start understanding the linguistic and cultural barriers, when you have cultural awareness that we are all different, it becomes smoother communication,” Reyes-Hull said.

“In LINCC, we learn how difficult it is to make sure those barriers are not there. For example, Spanish doesn’t make us all the same. There will be differences. We just need to be aware and work with those differences. Not against them. With them.”

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