Hospital translators at the push of a button

Providence institutes systemwide language help via screens

ckrotzer@theolympian.comFebruary 14, 2013 

A woman walked into Providence St. Peter Hospital last week in search of her husband, brought in earlier by ambulance.

The woman couldn’t speak English. Hospital staff called for a bilingual chaplain, who was unfamiliar with her dialect.

Although the woman was eventually assisted, the hospital has gone to new lengths to ensure patients can be helped immediately.

Cue Martti, a mobile translation unit that with a push of a button connects hospital staff and patients to call centers in Ohio and California, according to hospital spokesperson Chris Thomas.

The call centers are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with translators fluent in 208 languages, including American Sign Language.

Nearly a quarter of the hospital’s 1,500 staff members have been trained to use the units, with many more in-service trainings scheduled through March.

“We have had them about a month, but they are (now) being more widely accepted by the staff,” Thomas said last week.

In the case of the woman looking for her husband, the staff members who assisted were not yet trained or familiar with the Martti units.

“It certainly would have helped,” Thomas said.

One unit is stationed in the hospital’s emergency room, one in the Family Birth Center, and two are in transport services, ready to be deployed to anywhere they are needed in the hospital.

There is also a unit at Providence St. Peter’s Centralia hospital, as well as at hospitals in Alaska and Oregon.

“It’s part of a systemwide initiative,” Thomas said.

The hospital already has interpretive options for patients and their families, including phone services and in-person translators, who usually must be pre-scheduled and can take time to coordinate.

Their traditional forms of translation also do not offer the same language variety as the Martti units.

Martti offers easy translation in a matter of seconds. The monitor sits on top of an adjustable stand on wheels, carrying a 90-minute battery pack that makes it available for use anywhere in the hospital.

It also has a power cord in case the patients needs it for an extended period of time.

“It’s just like Skyping,” Thomas said.

The user pushes a button, then hears a dial tone. Within seconds, an operator appears on the screen, asking where to direct their call.

The patients can see and hear the translators, who in turn can see everyone in front of the monitor.

Ana Garcia, the hospital’s Interpretive Services coordinator, was part of the training kickoff in January during which she helped train about 200 staffers on all three of the hospital’s shifts.

“The Family Birthing Center wanted it immediately,” she said. “It’s quick immediate access … and has an interpersonal feel to it when the patients can see their translators.”

Nurse Cindy Hill has been with the hospital since 2004 and used the unit to help a new mother who had trouble with lactation.

“They had a lot of questions,” Hill said. “I used it probably eight times during that day so she would feel confident.”

By luck, the patient got the same translator half the time.

“At first she didn’t quite know what was going on, but when the same interpreter came on three different times, she made that connection with that person,” Hill said.

The translators are trained to say only exactly what the nurse or patient is saying, something Hill said she didn’t get from some in person translators.

“I felt in the past the interpreter would editorialize it,” she said. “With this, it’s very clear they were saying what I was saying.”

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476

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