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October 15, 2002

Health care workers cite need for interpreters

From: Cedar Rapids Gazette, IA
Oct. 15, 2002

By Tom Fruehling
The Gazette
Tuesday, October 15, 2002, 10:57:54 AM

CEDAR RAPIDS -- With Iowa's population becoming increasingly diverse, those in the health service field say there is a growing need for foreign language interpreters in the state's medical community.

Language barriers often stop accurate communication between medical providers and their patients, a health care expert said at a forum in Beems Auditorium.

"The use of interpreters helps ensure the correct exchange of information, assists providers in diagnosing illness and improves patients' ability to follow medical advice," Arlinda McKeen, vice president of the private State Public Policy Group, said.

She said interpreters can reduce overall health care costs by eliminating unnecessary testing, reducing emergency room visits and allowing patients to provide informed consent for treatment.

Too often, however, these services are not available.

Including people who are deaf or hearing impaired, more than 10 percent of Iowans communicate in a language other than English.

And Carlos Macias, of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said the number of immigrants in the state has exploded, particularly in the last 10 years.

The Hispanic population, for instance, has grown by 153 percent and the Asian population by 72 percent.

McKeen said interpreters fall under provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But they're often not available in medical settings because of a lack of trained individuals or funding.

Macias said it's an increasing problem because much of the diversification is taking place in rural Iowa.

Federal funds from both Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program can be used for interpreters' service, but McKeen said the Legislature would have to pass laws to access the money.

Currently, only six states have adopted provisions to receive federal reimbursement.

"We're just getting started in Iowa," McKeen noted. "We're collecting data to quantify the problem and will be making recommendations. We want to this to be a hot-button issue."

Copyright © 2002 by Gazette Communications - Cedar Rapids, IA