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St. Luke's interpreters take aim at language barriers in medicine

"I am the first face they see, and I can be the person to make them feel comfortable and be friendly," says Bilingual Community Outreach Coordinator Ruby Garcia.

BOISE, Idaho — Interpreters at a local health system are taking steps to break down language barriers between patients and their healthcare providers.

St. Luke’s Language Department served Idaho’s population even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but their work has become increasingly needed. 

The language department provides qualified Spanish-speaking interpreters for the Hispanic community in Idaho, as well as qualified interpreters for American Sign Language and other spoken languages. Interpretation is available 24/7 at no cost through video, phone, or in person.

According to the Idaho Commission of Hispanic Affairs' latest report, Hispanics in Idaho are more likely to get COVID-19, but are less likely to die from it. Currently, Hispanics make up a smaller share of the state’s total case count compared to the summer of 2020.

St. Luke’s Bilingual Community Outreach Coordinator Ruby Garcia says it’s important to provide translation services to help bridge the gap between patients and healthcare providers.

"It’s hard to ask for help. It's hard to step into a place where you know you are going to ask for help," Garcia said. "You don't know how that person on the other side is going to react. I am the first face they see, and I can be the person to make them feel comfortable and be friendly. I like to be there for people when they need."

At the beginning of the pandemic, Garcia said, the department saw an increased need for rent assistance. Now they are seeing a greater need for mental health help.

St. Luke’s Language Department is a partner with the Mexican Consulate in Boise, which provides a program named Ventanilla de Salud, or Health Window. The program is dedicated to providing resources and support for the local Latino population.

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