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Pilot program provides Pa. agency with trained language interpreters

Allentown EMS have been given iPads equipped with access to Lehigh Valley Health Network’s live video medical language interpreting service


An LVHN medical translator gives a demonstration of what she and other translators like her do during video calls with emergency patients.

Courtesy/Leif Greiss

Leif Greiss
The Morning Call

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Thanks to a partnership with LVHN, technicians with Allentown emergency medical services will no longer have to worry about meeting a language barrier when they are trying to help and transport patients.

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, other city officials and representatives of Lehigh Valley Health Network met at Mack Southside Fire Station Tuesday morning to show off an ongoing joint pilot program that provides the Allentown Health Bureau and Allentown EMS with trained language interpreters.

Through a $20,000 grant LVHN’s Health Care Trust of Anne Constance and Carl Robert Anderson the city has been given seven iPads, five for the city’s ambulances and two for the Allentown Health Bureau, all equipped with access to LVHN’s live video medical language interpreting service. At present, the language service is free but once the pilot ends in October, a call with an LVHN translator it will cost the city about 83 cents per minute.

Tuerk said about 48% of Allentown’s population speaks a language other than English. Vicky Kistler, the city’s director of economic development and former city health bureau director, said this diversity in languages within in the city is the reason why this program is so important.

“Can you imagine that your child is choking and you can’t explain to the first responder what they ate, that they ate food they were allergic to, and now they can’t breathe?” Kistler said. “A situation very similar to that happened one day when Allentown EMS transported a woman that they thought was having abdominal pain, only later to realize that the woman was actually pregnant and experiencing complications due to a pregnancy.”

LVHN’s trained medical language interpreters speak a wide variety of verbal and nonverbal languages including Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic and English sign language. The languages most commonly spoken in Lehigh County and the city will have interpreters available 24 hours a day seven days a week, though some like Russian will only have guaranteed availability during limited time frames.[0]=AZUbFMdb2X3NpfgIv09MSmLOBquXo8419gve-ZqyvD8uLpAH06pkjnrdMNnhqxfwjNEK68SNpMKN2pERvmHPErr9E6ISAyOxKe3N997XhE-7LRqzRzYaH7Gh8wdGIjW87Yqp6fbCGBaOAkuwW6qQg80GG4Jt6CAaMaX8losmgz0vmQ&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

The pilot started about one month ago and since then city ambulances now have the iPads mounted inside whenever they go out on a call. Over the past month the interpreting services have been used at least 10 times Mehmet Barzev, chief of EMS for Allentown, said. He added though there have been some challenges, especially when working with older less technology savvy patients, the response from patients has been overall positive.

Joumana De Santiago, manager of interpreter services for LVHN, said she is confident this program will help reduce trauma and anxiety associated with medical emergencies and create better outcomes for thousands of patients and families in the Lehigh Valley.

De Santiago was the one who came up with the idea of this program and partnership. She said she’s been on both sides of having to help translate for someone in a medical crisis — she’s done it personally for family members and seen the need for translators at LVHN’s hospitals.

De Santiago said though calls themselves are not recorded and are confidential, the city and LVHN are collecting utilization data that will be used to improve this program and make decisions about it in the future.


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