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A shortage of language interpreters in health care is highlighting the importance of the vital service

The pandemic brought to the surface the need for effective communication with patients who have limited English proficiency or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

YORK, Pa. — The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the surface the need for effective communication with patients who have limited English proficiency or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

"This pandemic made it even more difficult for those patients to communicate with their providers," said Evelin La Paz, The Language Service and Inclusion Manager at Lancaster General Health. 

"We have seen an increase for interpreter services," agreed Elisabeth Perez, the Certified Healthcare Interpreter Manager at UPMC.

It has also highlighted the need for interpreters, who tend to bridge the gap between patients and medical providers.

"As far as shortage of staff, yes. It's been seen in all fields and healthcare was one of the most impacted," said La Paz. 

The interpreters that local healthcare providers did have were limited because in person services were restricted during the peak of the pandemic.

"The communication between patient and provider can have a detrimental impact in the patients health if there is no clarity," said La Paz. 

Hospitals in the UPMC and Penn Medicine health systems continue to work to improve the quality of care and help eliminate the health disparities when it comes to language access.

UPMC partnered with a company that provide interpreters who are available if needed. 

"Our inpatient/outpatient areas have the phone as well as the Ipad, so they are able to access interpreters through those devices," said Perez. 

Penn Medicine Lancaster general health has 16 interpreters and 78 employees who are accredited as dual-role interpreters.

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