Mercy Health’s Language Services Provides Language Assistance for Every Patient in Every Setting
Editor’s note: Mercy Health News has developed a two-part series on the important work our certified interpreters provide to our patients and colleagues. (Read Part One)
Together with the advanced technology of Video Remote Interpretation (VRI) and access to 200 more vendor interpreters, Mercy Health’s Language Services team plays a key role in hundreds of patient encounters each week across West Michigan.
Mercy Health colleagues and patients rely on this dynamic team in various settings — from inpatient departments in hospitals to various outpatient settings, such as labs, pharmacies, urgent care facilities and Mercy Health Physician Partners (MHPP) offices.
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According to Damian Omness, regional manager of Language Services, the busiest inpatient and acute-care setting for his team is Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital. However, the most requests for language assistance at an MHPP office come from Lakeshore Family Medicine in Shelby.
Of Mercy Health’s 1,300 medical staff physicians, only a relative handful (less than 30) is fluent in other languages that they also use in their practices. Elizabeth Tree-LeVasseur, MD, is an exception to the rule.
For 20 years, Tree-LeVasseur has incorporated her fluency with Spanish into her practice. As the only provider in Oceana County who delivers babies for mothers who live there, a large percentage of her pregnant patients come from the migrant population.
“I maintain an MHPP office in Whitehall and Shelby but deliver most babies at Mercy Health Hackley in Muskegon.” She is on call 24/7, except when she takes a vacation.
Tree-LeVasseur’s language skills are a huge draw to the seasonal worker population. “The importance of the work we are doing is that we are helping an entire population, including the underserved migrant workers and poor and people living in rural areas, so they may have access to quality health care.”
Unable to practice medicine and serve as interpreter for her medical colleagues along the lakeshore, Tree-LeVasseur speaks highly of the Language Services team:
“I’m the only doctor in our practice who speaks Spanish fluently, but I can’t attend every Spanish-speaking patient’s appointment with our other providers. It’s been great that Mercy Health steps up and provides that service for our patients.” (Read Dr. Tree-LeVasseur’s full story here)
MHPP Cardiovascular in Grand Rapids
As cardiac director of Congestive Heart Failure at MHPP Cardiovascular, Roger Shammas, MD, FACC, relies on Language Services as much as 10 times per month for reliable communication with his patients. Because he deals with complex issues, two-way communication is essential.
“Being able to communicate with the patient and get a clear and concise history — and being able to explain to the patient everything from educational information to results of tests to setting up procedures in the hospital — is extremely important.”
Family members often attend appointments with non-English speaking patients, so they can hear what the interpreter is saying and later discuss what was said after the appointment. However, it takes a trained medical interpreter to help with complex communication and to obtain pre-procedural or pre-operative consent.
About 75 percent of Shammas’ patients who require language assistance are Spanish-speaking. When other languages are needed, his office depends on VRI technology.
Shammas relies on members of the Language Services team in both office and hospital settings, especially during procedures.
“It’s not uncommon to have interpreters with us during a heart catheterization, wearing lead aprons just like the physicians and nurses, as the interpreters explain to the patients what is happening.”
Interpreters make quality care possible for many patients who might otherwise be marginalized.
“Mercy Health’s mission is to treat all patients with respect and dignity, regardless of their circumstances. The Language Services team gives non-English speaking patients access to the same quality care as our patients who speak English,” said Shammas.
The bottom line: Shammas describes Language Services as “top-notch. They are very punctual, helpful and respectful to patients. I have never had a bad experience with them. The team is easy to work with, and I encourage all of my colleagues to utilize them.”
Mercy Health Urgent Care in Whitehall
On average, Sceone M. Kraai, PA-C — who works at Mercy Health Urgent Care, MHPP Lakeshore Medical in Whitehall, and also in Ludington — relies on Language Services twice a day.
“I can speak a little Spanish, but it’s not that great. I can usually say hello and ask the patient where their pain is and to open their mouth, but that’s about it.”
In the urgent care setting, Kraai typically sees acute patients with urinary tract infections, lacerations, sore throats or belly pain. “When we call for interpreters with acute-care patients, the team members come quickly. We don’t have to wait long.”
She also schedules visits with patients for regular follow-ups and annual physicals. In those cases, she plans ahead for an interpreter to attend the appointments, which gives her peace of mind.
“Without the help of the Language Services team, visits with many patients would be a disaster. We might misdiagnose patients or overlook things, and I’m sure that patients would be less happy.”
Kraai has been a physician’s assistant for 10 years and at Mercy Health for one year. In her previous work settings, she felt that visits took much longer when an interpreter was present. Not so with Mercy Health’s team.
“I’ve used other interpretive services before, and this one is the best. I don’t know why that is, but I can tell you that they’re professional, helpful and always available. Patients love them, and I’ve never had a complaint.”
Delivering expert medical care each year to thousands of patients whose first language in NOT English is possible thanks to Mercy Health’s dynamic team of 26 trained, tested and certified interpreters. Language Services is just one of many visible ways that Mercy Health remains true to its mission.