Notes from Toni: Interpreter pilot program in works

Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Columns, Featured, Notes from Toni | No Comments

By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni

As I visited constituents and community groups throughout my district during the legislative recess in July, one of the pieces of news from the Capitol that I was most excited to share was a development that didn’t make headlines around California.

That bit of news was regarding a single line item in the new state budget that we passed in June. It was a $3 million appropriation for a pilot project to study state funding for medical interpreters.

I’ve been aware of the need for medical interpreters since my time decades ago working in women’s health clinics, which served low-income clients, many of whom didn’t speak English as a first language. I’m fortunate to have a position in the Assembly that has allowed me to directly push for funding, and I’m very pleased that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature agreed to include funding for this item in the 2016-17 budget.


Speaker Emeritus Toni G. Akins delivered hundreds of socks to Stand Down. (Photo by Morgan M. Hurley)

In California, more than 40 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home and almost seven million people are estimated to speak English less than fluently. When these Californians go to the doctor, they often rely on untrained staff, family members or friends to help them understand what their doctor is telling them about their healthcare.

Making important decisions about healthcare is difficult enough, but it becomes even harder when language barriers get in the way of full understanding. When critical information gets lost in translation, it can lead to inadequate patient evaluation and diagnosis, as well as lack of appropriate and timely treatment.

Errors or misunderstandings can jeopardize patient safety and lead to unnecessary procedures and cost.

This is why we need to secure funding for medical interpretation services for low-income Medi-Cal clients who have limited English proficiency and need help understanding their medical practitioners.

Funding a pilot program is the first step toward ensuring true access to healthcare for every Californian using best practices for translation that gain patient compliance and trust.

The Legislature has been in the business of breaking down barriers, particularly when it comes to making sure that everyone in California has access to quality healthcare. The next barrier to fall should be the one blocking patients from a clear understanding of the health advice their doctors are giving them.

I look forward to working on the details of the pilot program — this is truly the kind of issue that compelled me to run for public office.

Around the district: We have one more month of summer and my district has many options for free concerts and movies in the park. I love these shows. They are a great, family-friendly way to connect with the community and see talented local singers and bands, all for free. I hope you head out to Balboa Park, Normal Heights, North Park, Point Loma, University Heights or the Waterfront Park, soon! … We have constant reminders that wildfires are a danger to San Diego, for instance the recent Feather and Border fires. CalFire has a program, Volunteers in Prevention (VIP), to educate the public about the steps they can take to prevent fires. Volunteers help by attending fairs, parades and school events to share important CalFire tips. The program is doing an amazing job, because areas that use the VIP program have seen a 50 percent drop in child-related fires. To bring the program to a local school, or to volunteer, call 619-590-3100. 

—Toni G. Atkins is the Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly. For more information, please visit her website, where you can sign up for her e-newsletter or get the latest news on legislation and other activities. You also may follow her on Twitter, @toniatkins.

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