SIOUX CENTER—Guadalupe sat in a small doctor’s office with her mother and a doctor. Guadalupe’s native language is Spanish, but she understands and speaks English well. Her mother couldn’t speak any English.
“Have you had any surgeries?” the doctor asked her mother.
“Ha tenido alguna cirguia?” Guadalupe asked her mom.
This is taking forever Guadalupe thought, as she told the doctor that, yes, her mother has had two surgeries. The first was to “get her tubes tied” and the second was for her gallbladder. Then she told him about the spots on her face and the blood transfusion and a tumor and more and more.
Though time consuming, the work Guadalupe did was valuable. Interpretation and translation are one of the top three health care needs in Sioux Center, according to the 2019 Sioux Center Health Implementation strategy.
About seven or eight years ago, Sioux Center Health only needed one full time interpreter, said Jessica Diaz, Cultural Services Coordinator and Interpreter for the health organization. Now, there are two full time interpreters, three as-needed interpreters and several bilingual doctors, receptionists and admissions representatives.
As a youth not trained in medical terminology, Guadalupe said it could take a frustratingly long time to get a message from the patient to the interpreter to the doctor and then back again.
She got frustrated that sometimes interpreters would only say half of what she or her parent said, or didn’t get it all right.
Then, when there is no interpreter present, one has to be called through a service and that can be difficult and impersonal.
The North West Iowa Coalition of Community Health Interpreters is creating a test to standardize interpreters across Sioux County. Currently, all of the medical interpreters at Sioux Center Health and Promise Community Health Center in Sioux Center have taken this test. At each location patients can ask for a certified medical interpreter or use a program like Cyracom to call an interpreter.
A translator is on staff to translate all of Sioux Center’s signs and brochures into Spanish as well. (Translators deal with written word, interpreters with spoken word.) Interpreters often refer to themselves as “cultural brokers,” Diaz said, because they are not only telling the doctor what words the patient said, but helping a patient navigate the health care system.
“Hispanic culture is not used to preventative medicine… so when we go to the doctor is because we have something, like a problem,” said Maria Garcia Rodriguez, receptionist at Sioux Center Health. In Hispanic culture, often people don’t make appointments or show up late, she said. So sometimes people don’t make an appointment and sit in the waiting room for hours with the expectation that someone will see them eventually.
An ambulance pulled up outside of Sioux Center Health and Diaz followed a non-English speaking women and a nurse down a hallway to an examination room followed by two state troopers. The woman was just in a car accident that totaled two cars, deploying the airbags and leaving her shaken. She hadn’t been able to tell the nurse or the troopers what happened and sat in the middle of the room, tense. Diaz walked in and the woman sighed, “oh Jesse,” and her shoulders dropped. Diaz walked over and stood beside her to relate her story as accurately as possible to the troopers.
Mary Muncy participated in the 2021 World Journalism Institute two-week summer course held the end of May at Dordt University in Sioux Center. WJI’s focus is to recruit, equip, place and encourage journalists who are Christians and to help them learn how to hone their skills for God’s glory. (He/she) wrote this story as part of the WJI’s hands-on learning experience. Muncy is from Knightstown, IN, and attends Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA.