Medical translation services have always been important for Philadelphia’s immigrant communities, but the pandemic, with its heightened health concerns and complicated vaccination rules, has highlighted that gap.
A few individuals and organizations are stepping in to fill the need, including Robert Adziashvili, a medical broker in northeast Philadelphia. He started an effort to increase medical literacy among non-english speakers. He is working on a series of videos that provide information in different languages about topics ranging from Medicare coverage plans to urging people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act while they still can.
Navigating the often complex landscape of health insurance is a difficult task, even more so for immigrants and non-English speakers.
“For some reason the industry makes matters more complicated than they really are,” Adziashvili said. “I’m trying to simplify the issue. They add so much information that is unnecessary, if someone’s English isn’t that good and they’re trying to grasp the idea , there’s an ocean of information and they get confused. I think people need direction to navigate that.”
Some of the most common issues that people encounter according to Robert are: pre-existing conditions, emergency hospitalizations, and financial drain from choosing an incorrect plan.
Covid-19 has also heightened people’s anxiety about having medical coverage.
“People were calling me saying they contracted Covid-19 and wanted to make sure their ICU and hospital stays were covered,” Adziashvili said. “ ICU’s are important when someone contracts Covid-19 because they need a reanimation room and oxygen equipment. People are now more concerned about hospital stays than anything else.”
Sigute Paulauskaite emigrated from Lithuania over 20 years ago and has been a client of EHealth 20 for many years.
“The communities are uninformed,” Paulauskaite said. “We need more resources and tools available to spread this kind of information to non-english speaking communities. A big difference between now and 20 years ago is that we have social media. Anyone can ask a question and someone from the community will answer.”
Most of the videos Robert produces are shared on social media platforms like Facebook between different immigrant groups.
Another way that things have improved from years past is that hospitals and other medical providers are now mandated in the way that they provide language services.
“It has become a matter of the state,” said Natalya Petrova, a licensed medical interpreter. “There is a law that states that every recipient of federal money, and hospitals receive a portion of their money form federal funds, they are now obligated to provide language access. The importance of this has grown even more during the pandemic.”
In 2016, the Affordable Care Act adopted 2 important changes to its policy. The first being that medical providers must provide licensed medical interpreters to their LEP (limited English proficient) patients as well as to the deaf and hard of hearing. The second being that patients could now sue providers for language access violations.