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Bilingual speech pathologists, highly trained interpreters needed in health care settings

The need for bilingual speech-language pathologists and highly trained interpreters in health care settings is staggering, says New Mexico State University professor Marlene Salas-Provance.



Marlene Salas-Provance (NMSU Courtesy Photo)

Salas-Provance says there are about 47 million people in the U.S. who do not speak English or do not speak English well, causing the potential for health care disparities for these individuals to be greatly increased, whether it is a patient with a communication disorder or another type of health issue.

"The need for trained interpreters in New Mexico and across the country is great," Salas-Provance said. "The time when the front office staff can be pulled to serve as an interpreter without appropriate training is a thing of the past. It is not ethical, nor fair to the patient or client to provide them a lesser quality of health care because they are not proficient in English."

Salas-Provance, director of the NMSU College of Education's Communications Disorders Program, recently spoke at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's Health Care and Business Institute on the national needs for interpreters in health care. This national conference drew 600 professionals who focused on business aspects that speech-language pathologists and audiologists must know for practice management.

Salas-Provance's presentation focused on new information on the Joint Commission Standards for hospitals that were implemented in January 2011. One of these standards will require hospitals to make interpreters available for their facilities to be accredited in 2012.

"This requirement will improve communication between patients and caregivers, increase access to care, and decrease fear of discrimination, all associated with English Language Learners," Salas-Provance said. "Communication is the cornerstone of patient safety and health care quality."

Salas-Provance said NMSU's program is on the cutting edge for training bilingual speech-language pathologists.

"The speech-language pathologists who graduate from the NMSU Communications Disorders Program have the skills necessary to provide bilingual services, including appropriate interpreter skills needed in their profession," she said.

NMSU students also compete for the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Speech-Language Services for all Language Learners program (CLASS for ALL), a federal Department of Education funded program for training of bilingual personnel, directed by Deborah Rhein, an NMSU assistant professor in the Communications Disorders Program.

In recent years, the applications for admission to the NMSU communications disorders graduate program, from across the country, have included a greater number of students each year who seek NMSU solely to participate in and receive funding from CLASS for ALL. Part of the bilingual speech-language pathologist's training includes coursework on the elements of interpreting. Students in the program, both bilingual and monolingual English speakers, are taught how to be an appropriate interpreter and how to work with interpreters.

For more information on the NMSU Communications Disorders Program, contact Salas-Provance at 575-646-2363.