Trying to communicate with doctors and nurses at Saint Anthony Hospital last month, Catalina Arroyo said she and her nephew had to wait for hours, or until the next day to get help if no one there speaks Spanish.
That’s why they hope state lawmakers approve a bill that would require an interpreter be available during all hours at all Illinois hospitals if a patient lives in areas where languages other than English, are spoken by more than 10 percent. Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) introduced SB2929 to help these patients, but all would depend on where the neighborhood is located.
The Illinois Senate’s Human Services Committee will meet on Feb. 25 to hear the bill.
“My nephew is sick,” said Arroyo.
If his wife cannot go with him to the doctor appointments, Arroyo has to go with him. But he said sometimes it’s a waste of time.
Arroyo, 54, who is originally from Mexico, said sometimes an interpreter is available, but most of the time there’s isn’t.
If this law is signed into law, many hospitals would have to find multi-bilingual interpreters. In Illinois, 1.15 million out of 12 million of the state’s population reports speaking English less than well or very well. Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Korean and Tagalog are the top five languages for residents who speak a language other than English at home, according to the census.
Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle earns $30 an hour as a part-time Spanish interpreter at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Even though the institute has two interpreters who work five days a week, they call Ginsberg-Jaeckle when they need additional help.
If Ginsberg-Jaeckle is not available, and there is an emergency, he said the institute has no choice, they have to use the services of the company LanguageLine. The company handles the majority of the over-the-phone interpretations for 911 emergency calls nationwide.
Ginsberg-Jaeckle said interpreters who know languages other than English and Spanish are needed as well.
“Hospitals are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are under enormous pressure to provide access to care in a very challenging environment,” said Danny Chun, vice president of Corporate Communications for the Illinois Hospital Association.
The group supports the measure contingently, since it would be a challenge for his members to implement.
“[Illinois Hospital Association] wants to ensure these language assistance services are available while at the same time recognizing the importance of making these services available in the most efficient manner possible,” Chun said.
“Sandoval will meet later this week with the trade group in hopes of reaching an agreement over the bill,”said Tammi Zumwalt, legislative assistant at the Illinois Senate for Sandoval.
“Maybe this bill is not necessary,” said Zumwalt.
Karin Davenport, director of communications for the U.S. English said that as a general rule U.S. English do not take a position on the language policies of private businesses, including hospitals but she believes all U.S. residents should learn English for their own benefit.
“Speaking other languages is fine, but ensuring that English is one of them ensures a daily life, in any situation, without language barriers,” Davenport said.