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What If You Couldn't Understand Your Doctor? A New "Interpreter Bill" Would Save Lives Lost In Translation

One patient mistakenly aborted her baby due to language barriers—and her story is far from unique.

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Po’s father ultimately died from a brain tumor and complications from a stroke. Now 17, Poulinna Po blames herself for her father’s death. She tearfully told her story last June at a town hall meeting on language access held at the University of Southern California.

As the Affordable Care Act’s full implementation proceeds, the need for medical interpreters will increase – and so will problems unless the system is fixed. Julio Perez now lives in Norwalk and graduated this spring from California State University, Fullerton with a degree in political science and Chicano Studies. He says he is speaking out to shine a spotlight on the problems caused by the lack of medical interpreters and the need for a solution. He has also testified before the state Assembly Health Committee.

“I’m putting so much effort into this because my little brother passed away and I do not want his suffering to be in vain,” Perez says. “I want people to see that the lack of medical interpreters has had detrimental effects on families and that innocent lives have been lost as well. If the governor signs AB1263, then I will feel that I accomplished what I was hoping for, and saved some lives in the process.”

An investigative reporter for more than three decades, Gary Cohn won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1998 for his series The Shipbreakers, detailing the dangers to workers and the environment when old ships are dismantled. Reach him with comments or story ideas at gcohn@fryingpannews.org.