In California, a state where nearly seven million residents admit to speaking little or no English, having access to a professional interpreter can mean the difference between life and death in hospitals. With so many Californians at daily risk, a new bill would ensure that patients with limited English proficiency receive correct medical treatment. The law, however, will come too late for Guillermo Garcia Rodriguez. In 2011, the then-45-year-old, Oceanside father of three rushed his 42-year-old wife Elizabeth, who had suffered a massive stroke, to Tri-City Medical Center where she was intubated and put on life support.
Talking to Capital & Main through an interpreter, Garcia, who like his wife, speaks no English, describes a bewildering and frightening month-long ordeal in which he could get little information from the mostly non-Spanish-speaking nurses and hospital staff.
Poulinna Po had just walked into the Long Beach offices of Khmer Girls in Action when she got the news: Governor Jerry Brown had vetoed Assembly Bill 1263, which promised to expand the number of state medical translators. The measure had seemed to offer a straightforward solution to the dilemmas faced by California’s estimated three million Medi-Cal beneficiaries who speak little or no English when they talk to Anglophone doctors or medical staff.
One tragic example of this kind of patient-doctor miscommunication occurred in 2008 at Los Angeles County General hospital, when a pregnant Maria Guevara, who only spoke Spanish, was prescribed an abortion-inducing drug — which she then took, believing it to be part of her prenatal care. She lost her baby.
“That lack of communication between the doctor and me has changed my life forever, ” Guevara would later bitterly recount.
Governor Jerry Brown has included AB 1263, the Medical Interpreters Bill, in a group of bills passed by the California legislature that he vetoed. As Frying Pan News’ Gary Cohn wrote August 20, “Day after day, non-English speaking patients are seeing doctors and nurses throughout California without the aid of medical interpreters, sometimes with tragic results.”
Cohn’s article highlighted stories in which Californians lacking fluency in English received harmful or unintended medical advice, or who were kept in the dark on the medical conditions of loved ones. AB 1263, authored by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), would have spent $200,000 to gain access to $270 million in Affordable Care Act funds to create about 7,000 interpreter jobs within 10 years.
The governor vetoed the measure Sunday, commenting, according to the Sacramento Bee, that “California has embarked on an unprecedented expansion to add more than a million people to our Medi-Cal program.
See original feature by Gary Cohn, “Interpreter Bill Would Help Save Lives Lost in Translation.”
Maria Guevara had been trying to get pregnant for three years when she saw a doctor at Los Angeles County General hospital in 2008. She was understandably thrilled, then, to learn she was indeed three months pregnant at the time of her visit. As Guevara later recalled, when the doctor asked her in English if she wanted to keep the baby, “without hesitation I replied ‘yes’ to his question. Before leaving the hospital, the doctor prescribed me medication that I thought was prenatal care. That lack of communication between the doctor and me has changed my life forever.”
Guevara took the prescribed medication, and experienced violent pain and bleeding. She returned to the hospital, where another doctor told her the bleeding was the result of a miscarriage.
“My baby was dead. The medication the initial doctor prescribed to me was not prenatal care but medication to induce an abortion,” she told a press conference in April at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.