Behind the Scenes at the Brigham: Interpreter Services

Behind the Scenes at the Brigham: Interpreter Services

Nurse Louise Payen and medical interpreter Ana Hoffman meet on Braunwald Tower 14A.

This article was originally featured in the Brigham Bulletin.

When Sigfredo Salguero began working at the Brigham five years ago, he was struck by the professionalism and enthusiasm of each member of the Interpreter Services team.

“The work they do is unmeasurable,” said Salguero, operations manager for Interpreter Services. “I am grateful we have such dedicated and talented individuals who love coming to the Brigham to help our patients and their families.”

Last year, the Brigham’s Interpreter Services team, a department within Patient Care Services, assisted roughly 90,000 patients and their families with language barriers and hearing impairments across inpatient and ambulatory areas — more than doubling in volume over the past decade. Yilu Ma, MS, MA, CMI, director of Interpreter Services, broke into a wide smile just thinking about this number.

“I am so proud of our team and what we accomplish every day,” Ma said. “We are part of our patients’ care teams, and it feels great for all of us to know that Interpreter Services is a valued and respected resource at the Brigham, delivering the highest-quality, safest, most compassionate and professional care to our limited-English proficiency patients and their families.”

In the past few years, the department has expanded its offerings to distributed campus locations and works with a vendor that provides phone and video interpreter services around the clock when Brigham interpreters are unavailable.

A Part of the Team

Nearly 40 years ago, Interpreter Services at the Brigham had one staff member. Now, the department is one of the largest hospital-based interpreter services teams in Boston. Currently, the team has 21 part-and full-time certified staff interpreters and 50 certified per-diems, providing interpretation and translation services in over 40 languages, including American Sign Language (ASL), Cantonese, Cape Verdean, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Somali and Spanish. At the Brigham, Spanish and ASL interpreters are available in person 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Spanish requests account for more than 70 percent of Interpreter Services’ total volume.

In addition to offering direct support, the team works with departments across the institution and provides translation services for various projects, campaigns, trainings and written materials.
Each day is different for interpreters at the Brigham. They might come in for their shift and have one or two simple translation requests, such as interpreting what a patient wants for breakfast. Later in the day, they might need to facilitate a conversation with a patient and provider about end-of-life care.

Ana Hoffman, a Spanish-language interpreter who works primarily in the Braunwald Tower, has been at the Brigham for 10 years. Throughout that time, she has gotten to know many patients and their families and enjoys the variety that comes along with her job. While some days are filled with challenging cases, she’s grateful that she can be there for patients, as well as her colleagues, when they need her the most.
“There is no work more rewarding than to convey different languages into one,” Hoffman said. “I am grateful to be able to contribute as part of the medical team in the Braunwald Tower and collaborate with our providers to help enhance the world-class care patients receive here at the Brigham.”

Janet Abrahm, MD, of the Division of Palliative Medicine, and her palliative care colleagues rely on interpreters each day to help them relay important, sensitive messages to patients and their families. In addition, Abrahm said interpreters act as cultural brokers in health care delivery and help providers work more productively with patients from diverse backgrounds.

One demonstration of the invaluable relationship the two teams have forged over the past few years has involved a collaboration among Abrahm, Ma, Jessica Goldhirsch, LICSW, MSW, MPH, of Care Coordination, and Marta Solis, MBA, BACHA, CMI, the service’s educator and a Spanish-language interpreter. They have worked to develop a series of dialogues designed to empower interpreters to strengthen their role on the care team. They also used a glossary of terms to help interpreters understand important language used in palliative care.
“The Interpreter Services group is so professional, responsible and skilled,” said Abrahm, former chief of the Division of Adult Palliative Care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “I couldn’t be luckier as a clinician in palliative care, and for whom communication is key, to have a partner who understands the nuances and subtlety of what I’m talking about.”

Leo F. Buckley Jr., executive director of Business Operations in Patient Care Services, said interpreters at the Brigham play a vital role ensuring that patients receive the highest-quality care.

“Our interpreters are central members of the patient care team and collaborate with nurses, physicians, therapists, nutritionists, chaplains, managers and many others by bringing diverging cultures together through interpretation for patients and their families,” Buckley said.

Salguero looks forward to continuing to help patients and their care teams communicate.
“The Brigham is a great place to work and receive care, and I believe we have some of the best interpreters in the world here,” he said. “I am glad to be able to call this hospital home. It’s an awesome place all around.”

“Behind the Scenes at the Brigham” is a monthly series in Brigham Bulletin that provides a glimpse of the people whose everyday contributions help make the Brigham a world-class institution. Is there an individual or team you’d like to see featured? Send your ideas to bulletin@bwh.harvard.edu.

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