Promoting certification, a South Carolina hospital story:
It's about being the best for our patients
About Lexington: Lexington Medical Center, West Columbia, South Carolina, has been named Columbia’s “Best Place to Have a Baby”, “Best Hospital” and one of the “Top 25 Best Hospitals to Work for in the U.S.” The heart and cancer programs are affiliated with Duke Medicine. Lexington Medical Center’s interpreters are an integral part of the organization’s success.
Lexington Medical Center staff: Left to right, back row: Yolanda Murillo, Mary Ayala, Melinda Soto; Front row: Su Kang, Amanda Elías Vargas, Patricia Buckley, Annette Hilgert, Luz Salazar, Ping Chen, Ana Andrew, Esmeralda Concepción
“We want to be the best versions of ourselves; we don’t want to provide mediocre care to our patients” says Amanda J. Elías Vargas, CHI™-Spanish, Coordinator of Interpreter Services Department at Lexington Medical Center, when I ask her why they support certification of their staff interpreters. “If our physicians and other healthcare professionals seek national certification, then it’s only natural that interpreters should be certified, too. We are members of the care team; we have to have equal credentials."
Amanda started working at Lexington Medical Center six years ago. That’s when the leadership realized that their community had been rapidly changing, with more patients who speak languages other than English seeking help. And to be true to their mission - to provide quality health services that meet the needs of the community – ad hoc lists of bilingual staff needed to be replaced with a sustainable interpreter services program. And Amanda, with the support of Susan Horton, Director of Guest Services and Interpreting Services, had the honor and challenge to develop such a program. “As the interpreter program was developed our goal was to provide the best care for our patients and a big part of that is how we communicate with them,” Susan states. “We made the decision to certify all of our interpreters to ensure the highest quality of care.”
“The first thing I realized was that any person who interprets for us must be trained,” continues Amanda. The hospital paid for her and four other bilingual staff to get the Bridging the Gap (BTG) training from the CCHCP. In 2010, she traveled to Seattle to become a licensed BTG trainer herself so that she could train in-house. Now all newly hired interpreters must complete the BTG course plus a week-long orientation and shadowing before they are allowed to work independently.
“Our goal is by January 2016, to have and hire only certified interpreters,” says Amanda. “I participated in CCHI’s first administration of the certification exams in 2010. I chose to be a CHI™-Spanish certified interpreter because CCHI’s process was more transparent and smooth. And I wasn’t disappointed. Both exams, CoreCHI™ and CHI™, are right on target as for what we are doing on a daily basis. The questions echo what BTG teaches and ascertain that the interpreter not only knows medical terminology but also understands the healthcare setting regulations and can apply the professional code of ethics to specific real-life situations.”
Since 2010, seven staff interpreters became certified through CCHI. One of them is Annette M. Hilgert, CHI™-Spanish, who, at first, worked in an administrative role and became staff interpreter in 2009. “One day I was asked by a physician to help him communicate with a Spanish-speaking patient, which I then learned was interpreting,” starts Annette. “A coworker encouraged me to apply. I finished the BTG training with Amanda and got certified with CCHI. It’s the best job I have ever had. At the end of the day, I know I made a difference in people’s lives.”
Annette strongly believes that CCHI certification confirms the status of a professional interpreter and ensures that interpreters have the proper training and skills to do their job. “Interpreting is not just a job. As Interpreters we have an opportunity to help provide excellent service and access to solutions to the patient’s healthcare concerns. We play an important role in a medical encounter of LEP patients as part of the medical team. Therefore, it is important to continue educating ourselves regarding terminology, diagnosis and procedures in order to do our job seamlessly and allow the provider-patient relationship to develop. It is an honor to be a certified interpreter through CCHI which allows me to serve the LEP patients, their families and colleagues with professionalism and integrity. I’m excited that four more of my coworkers are getting ready to take the exams now.”
In addition to reimbursing the certification expenses, the hospital also strongly supports the interpreters’ continuing professional development by including interpreters in relevant internal continuing education events for nurses, physicians and other healthcare professionals, by giving the interpreters time to take online webinars or attend conferences. And since last year, each staff interpreter gets budgeted dollars for their continuing education. “How can it be otherwise?!” interjects Amanda. “You have to show to employees that you are dedicated to their professional development. Otherwise they are not loyal to you, to your mission, and the cost of turnover is much higher. It’s also important to create the work environment that encourages growth, to be supportive and help them meet the high expectations I set. It’s comfortable to accept mediocrity and convince ourselves that the status quo is ‘good enough’ but it’s rewarding to strive and push toward a goal and then find you’ve surpassed even your own expectations. I think that keeps us sharp and motivated, and as it applies to medical interpreting, allows us to achieve excellence, which we owe to the patients we serve. It’s also important to stay curious! There is always something new in medicine, language and culture. And if we lose interest we’ll lose our interpreting skills.”