Tuesday, February 11, 2003
She hopes to break down language barriers between Hispanics and the English-speaking community.
By MARGARET NERY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- "No puebo respirar y mi brazo izquierdo esta dormicido," the patient cries. Ana Maria Louis quickly explains to the medical staff, "She says she can't breathe and her left arm is going numb."
Although this is a hypothetical situation, it stresses the importance of having someone on hand to act as an interpreter when language barriers could mean the difference between life and death for an emergency room patient.
The Humility of Mary Health Partners, St. Elizabeth and St. Joseph health centers, have taken a major step to avoid any such crisis -- they have hired Louis of Canfield as their Spanish interpreter.
The position was created when the facilities became aware of the need to understand and care for the medical problems of an increasing number of Hispanic patients.
The need for hiring a Spanish interpreter was recognized when a recent census report revealed that Hispanics make up the largest minority group in the United States, having increased by 4.7 percent between April 2002 and July 2001, from 35.3 to 37 million. Because more than 6,000 Hispanics live in the Youngstown area, it became evident that as a result, more Spanish speaking patients would eventually be admitted to the hospitals.
Louis will serve as a buffer between the medical staff and those patients who have not yet mastered English. A badge she wears on her lab coat bears the words, "Hablo Espanol" (I speak Spanish).
It is her job to break down the language barrier in order to end some of the confusion that has and could result for the lack of understanding, particularly in emergency cases where there is little time for establishing a reasonable form of communication.
She also plans to serve as a direct link between the hospitals and the Spanish speaking community. To that end, she has established a direct Spanish line, (330) 480-3217 for needy clientele.
Louis, who was born in the Domician Republic, was the logical choice for the position since, in addition to her ethnic background, she has extensive training and experience as a Spanish medical interpreter.
She was the first medical interpreter to be hired by WakeMed Healthcare System in Raleigh, N.C., where she was recognized for her innate ability to provide professional and compassionate care in support of health-care teams, patients and their families.
Married to Lamonte Louis and the mother of four children, she practiced her profession for several years in North Carolina before settling in Canfield.
On Jan. 6 she began her duties with St. Elizabeth and St. Joseph where her broad base of medical terminology and understanding of all dialects of Spanish have made her a welcome liaison during provider-patient interactions.
Louis has already been called into service at both facilities. "I have been here a little over three weeks and have already helped 15 patients," she says.
She maintains an office at St. E's where her duties encompass such things as providing confidential and sensitive interpretation and counseling to sexually or physically abused women and children.
Louis is also dedicated to providing diabetic education classes and outpatient services. She laughs as she explains, "I am the whole package, everybody in one person."
Eventually, however she hopes to have additional help so the Hispanic community will know that there is "always someone here for them."
She is interested in establishing such services as family care home visits, and assistance with appointment scheduling, nurse consultations, billing inquiries, pharmacy refills and other miscellaneous requests. She also hopes to help screen patients for eligibility for special programs and funding from federally funded sources.
She knows this may be a difficult task as some Hispanics, who are in the country illegally, are afraid to seek health care in case they will be deported. "I want to break that fear and to establish a feeling of trust so I can educate them about health care and health problems and get them the help they need," she explains.