Mercy’s interpreter helps patients cross the language barrier

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by the numbers

16 The number of Spanish Language Interpreters at Presence Mercy Medical Center.

40 The number of training hours interpreters go through.

20,000-plus The number of people served in 2007 by the hospital’s Language Access to Healthcare program.

1,200 The approximate number of patients, providers and community members Laura Martinez works with every month.

10 The number of years Martinez has been a Companeros en Salud (Partners in Health) board member.

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As the supervisor of Language Access to Healthcare at Presence Mercy Medical Center, 1325 North Highland Avenue in Aurora, Laura Martinez knows the importance of having the right interpreter by a non-English speaking patient’s side during treatment.

“When a person doesn’t speak English, they ask a family member or friend who does know the language to take time off work to accompany them to the hospital,” Martinez said. “In addition to the family member or friend losing a day’s wages, unqualified interpreters won’t know the proper medical terminology. This puts the patient at risk for unnecessary procedures and tests. Proper medical interpretation can avoid these problems.”

According to a report entitled “What Did the Doctor Say: Improving Health Literacy to Protect Patient Safety” by The Joint Commission: “At all points across the continuum of care, low health literacy levels and ineffective communication can compromise patient safety. Many patients who have low literacy skills mask what they feel are their inadequacies. For them, there is too much shame in admitting that they do not read well or that they do not understand.”

Martinez has been the interpreter services supervisor at Presence Mercy since 2004. She works with about 1,200 patients, providers and community members every month and was appointed last year to the National Council of Interpreters in Health Care.

There are 16 Spanish language interpreters at Presence Mercy so that medical interpretation is available at all times. In 2007, the hospital’s Language Access to Healthcare program served more than 20,000 people in northern Illinois through interpreting services and training.

Medical interpreters undergo a 40-hour training program that covers medical anatomy, confidentiality, cultural awareness and sensitivity, traditional healing, interpersonal skills, interpreters’ code of ethics, interpreter guidelines, medical terminology and role playing. Post training individuals must complete a 20-hour shadowing and internship with an experienced medical interpreter.

“Presence Mercy Medical Center really cares about community members inside and outside of the hospital,” Martinez said. “The hospital understands the importance of interpretive services so that every individual in our community receives equal access to healthcare.”

In addition to her work at Presence Mercy, Martinez is involved in a variety of community activities. As a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer, Martinez works with foster children involved in the judicial system. She is a board member of INC, a mental health support organization that helps groups such as: Association for Individual Development (AID), Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers, Open Door for Teens Inc., and Hope for Tomorrow.

Martinez has served three years on the Fox Valley United Way resource development committee. She ‘adopted’ a family last Christmas and provided Christmas gifts for them.

Martinez has been a member of the advisory board for the Dominican Literacy Center in Aurora for the past four years. The non-profit organization teaches local immigrant women how to read, speak and write the English language. It also helps immigrants with the steps they need to take toward citizenship.

The center celebrated its 20th anniversary on March 8, during International Women’s Day with a walk to North Aurora Island Park. It was one of three big events held to celebrate the anniversary.

The walk began with comments by Sister Kathleen Ryan, the center’s director, and Amy Manion, the center’s advisory board president. Walkers warmed up with stretching and Zumba dance moves. They concluded the walk with yoga cool down exercises and refreshments.

“Laura has been an exemplary chairperson of this program,” Ryan said. “She overcame many obstacles in the planning of this event. We are very grateful to her.”

Martinez has served as a board member of Companeros en Salud (Partners in Health) for 10 years.

“Companeros en Salud is a coalition to help the community,” Martinez said. “We have 30 members. We will hold our annual festival on Saturday, April 5, at the Prisco Community Center, 150 West Illinois Avenue in Aurora. The theme this year is ‘Health is Life.’ The event will give 250 women access to free screenings, education and free food on that day.”

Martinez is a member of the Aurora Latino Resources Council, a project of Companeros en Salud that brings in resources to help the community.

Martinez grew up in West Chicago. She and her husband, Jose, live in North Aurora and have three sons: A.J., 19; Nathaniel, 15, and Aidan, 14.

In order to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Strategic Leadership, Martinez has been taking classes at DePaul University in Chicago.

Martinez said that a number of her family members have found work in the field of healthcare. Her oldest son, A.J., is working as a transporter at Presence Mercy.

When asked why she is eager to help others, Martinez said that she is following the example that was set by her mother, Maria Luisa Mendoza.

“I learned from her,” Martinez said. “She helped people and gave them food. She made clothes for people when they needed them. She was a very giving and compassionate person.”