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Fresh Air Magazine

A Better Understanding

Interpreter bridges gap between patient and care team


Baby Sofìa Navejar Flores is nine months old, but she is already exhibiting star qualities.

She shakes her rattle loudly and with purpose, prompting her dad to predict a career in show business.

She’s been known to use her infectious smile to charm Rockcastle Regional’s staff into painting her nails.

Recently, when her family – parents Martin and Judith, and siblings Edwin, Stephanie and Catherine – came to visit their future star, they were all smiles.

But just a few months earlier they were anxious and uncertain, as any family would be when a new addition arrives prematurely.

Sofìa weighed only one pound at birth, and her lungs were extremely underdeveloped. She spent three months at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and three more months at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. She was released to go home on June 1 but after only three days, had a life-threating episode – an exacerbation of breathing complicated by an upper respiratory infection. She was taken back to UK.

After a few more weeks at UK’s neonatal intensive care unit, she was referred to Rockcastle Regional’s Respiratory Care Center in Mt. Vernon, KY, a place her family knew nothing about.

“We were afraid,” Judith, who doesn’t speak English, said through an interpreter. “What is the town (Mt. Vernon)? What will happen?”

It didn’t take long for their fears to be put to rest.

“Here they treat her very well,” Judith said. “We can tell she has recuperated very quickly, and we have been kept aware of all changes and progress.”

That they have been “kept aware” is critical. Their fears subsided as their confidence in the skill of the care team grew, but also because of Rockcastle Regional’s emphasis on communication and, in the Flores’s case, its use of an interpreter.

Olga Gamez-Thompson serves as Rockcastle Regional’s interpreter for its Spanish-speaking patients, and she has interpreted for the Flores family since Sofia was admitted.

“Having Olga made it so much better for us,” said Judith. “It’s more personal, and she knows Sofia’s history.”

That leads to more and better communication, which leads to less anxiety and, ultimately, better outcomes.

“Olga has been with us and the family from Sofìa’s admission and is familiar with her diagnosis and any ongoing issues,” said social worker Anne Harris.

“We don’t have to give the initial background to her for her to understand what we are needing her to translate to the family.”

Some healthcare facilities use a phone service for their interpreter needs, but Thompson says having a live interpreter is much better for the patient.

“It’s very important to have a personal contact with the provider,” said Olga. “Without seeing body language and knowing culture, phone interpreting leads to many misunderstandings. For example, the Hispanic culture is such that patients might not agree or understand, yet they will nod their head and indicate agreement or consent.”

Olga says interpreting becomes particularly crucial in long-term facilities such as Rockcastle Regional.

Such settings “include the whole family in your care, and there are other concerns besides the immediate medical concerns,” she said. “I’m more concerned that the families are understanding their treatment, learning goals of aftercare and what changes might be in store if discharged.”

At Rockcastle, she attends care plan meetings, is present when the family visits Sofìa as needed, and is on stand-by at all times.

“Olga makes it easy,” said Kayla Parker, RN. “She is available at any hour, and she’s very responsive.”

As much as Olga is welcomed and depended on, the Flores family look forward to the day they won’t need her. That would mean Sofìa had been sent home.

Fortunately, the prospects of Sofìa weaning from the ventilator are good, and the chances of her being a star are even better.

Respiratory Care Center

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