Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Story last updated at 11:40 AM on Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Translators in demand

Hispanic America

Every day, people go about their business, taking communication for granted. They show up at hospitals in pain, bleeding, and in life-and-death situations. They call the police about problems, crimes and car crashes. They walk into an office needing help.

And for the most part, they know the person they come face-to-face, or phone-to-ear, with will understand them.

Not so, if they don't speak English. That presents challenges throughout Eastern Jackson County where the Hispanic population is growing. From the hospital waiting room to the police dispatch center, the check-out line to the food pantry, the need for Spanish interpreters is growing.

"I used to not have a budget for interpreters at all," said Cindy Burress, regional director of case management for St. Mary's Medical Center in Blue Springs.

Now she has an $8,000 budget for hiring interpreters. The hospital tries not to use family members as interpreters, due to reasons related to privacy, accuracy and professionalism, Burress said.

"Now it's pretty common that we have a couple of calls a week at least," Burress said. "The need keeps growing and growing."

Paul Beaver/The Examiner

Martha Zamarripa, evening shift secretary for the Independence police investigative unit, is also a Spanish translator. Zamarripa also occasionally goes on scene or to an interrogation room as needed. In background is Alex Kormendi, jail supervisor.
Burress said there are language classes for people wanting to become interpreters. The key is that they must understand medical terminology.

The hospital often uses a telephone service to do the translating. The service is called, and the patient, hospital staff and doctors talk back and forth with the interpreter through a speaker.

"You don't want to get into a situation where you're misinterpreted," Burress said. "We try not to use the staff without medical training. I'd rather use the phone service."

The hospital is also providing more patient information in Spanish.

Joe Cairns, director of social services at Truman Medical Center-Lakewood, said the need for translators has grown from one part-time position in 1999 to two full-time translators now. The translators work 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and five interpreters are on call during the evening and weekend hours.

He said the increased staff is needed to respond to the 4,200 medical interpretations at the hospital, 630 non-medical interpretations such as filling out an application and 2,453 telephone calls requiring a Spanish speaking person between April of 2004 and May of 2005.

"It's been a significant increase since (1999)," Cairns said.

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Crossing that language barrier improves the quality of service between patients and doctors, he said. The translators assure more accurate communication about the patient's ailment, the diagnosis and the doctor's directions.

"It cuts down on medical errors," Cairns said. "It decreases the number of hospital visits."

It also improves patient satisfaction.

Community Services League Executive Director Sue Crumpton said the agency is serving more clients whose first language is Spanish. Fortunately, CSL has a staff member who speaks Spanish.

Fouzia Haq, development/ executive assistant, studied Spanish in high school and college. She has been working at CSL for two years and uses her Spanish more and more.

Once clients find out someone can speak Spanish they come in more often.

"They call just to make sure I'm here," she said.

Haq speaks Spanish with clients about four times a month, up from just a couple of times a month when she started working at CSL.

"We're seeing an increase in the proportion of Latinos," Crumpton said.

The Blue Springs Police Department has four officers who speak Spanish, and they use that skill almost daily, said Detective Troy Pharr.

The officers are not on call but can be reached when needed, Pharr said. The department would welcome even more bilingual officers.

"That is something the chief would definitely have a interest in on a resume," Pharr said.

Martha Zamarripa does a lot of translating for the Independence Police Department. She is an administrative assistant in the Investigations Unit. Spanish is her first language.

"Last night happened to be an all-night thing," she said recently. "Usually, it's a a good couple, three hours."

The calls range from giving directions to a lost person to translating for victims, witnesses and suspects. She began working with the Police Department in 1994 and took a couple of years off since then. She also worked in the Jackson County courthouse and at city municipal court.

"It's increased so much, it's amazing," Zamarripa said. "With our increasing population in the Hispanic community, there's going to be more of a demand."

"They need to create a full-time position. I would take it immediately," she said.

The Independence Chamber of Commerce is responding to the increased demand for Spanish language skills. Chamber members can take a basic Spanish class at Blue River Community College at a reduced fee.

Jane Conley, vice president of membership services, said there are more Spanish entrepreneurs in the northeast Kansas City area, and they are making inroads into Independence.

"Our idea is to make our businesses more successful and make things available to them to help them," Conley said.

To reach Robert Hite, send e-mail to or call 350-6321.

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