By Calvin Pynn, contributor
On-site interpretation for patients at Sentara RMH will look a little different later this year as the hospital plans to outsource those services.
Sentara RMH, which has provided Spanish-language interpreters for patients since 2011, will transfer all of those duties to Virginia Beach-based translation services company, The Language Group, LLC, which provides both in-person and virtual interpreting. The hospital has used The Language Group’s services since 2019 to supplement its in-house interpreters, and will use the company exclusively starting Dec. 20.
According to Sentara RMH spokesperson Neil Mowbray, The Language Group will help streamline and ensure consistency through the certified medical interpretation at the hospital. While The Language Group will provide phone and video chat interpretation for patients, in-person interpretation will still be available when appropriate.
“We will continue to offer face-to-face interactions with medical interpreters, but these interpreters will not be employees of Sentara,” Mowbray said. “They will be contracted through The Language Group, but will be onsite at Sentara RMH to meet patients in person.”
Although that means the hospital’s five full time-equivalent interpreters will no longer be employed by Sentara as of Dec. 20, Mowbray said some will still continue their roles as they will transition to working for The Language Group. A search on social networking site LinkedIn by The Citizen found that The Language Group currently employs four interpreters in Harrisonburg, although it is unclear what capacity they are employed with the company.
Neither The Language Group nor its current employees in Harrisonburg could be reached for comment.
According to Mowbray, Sentara RMH decided to exclusively contract with The Language Group for interpreting services earlier this summer. The company is currently contracted by ten other hospitals in Sentara’s network.
In moving to The Language Group, Sentara RMH will also end its contract with James Madison University’s Community Health Interpreting, Testing, Training Service (CHITTS). The organization, which is housed within the university’s Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center (AHEC), has provided on-site interpretation alongside the hospital’s in-house interpreters.
“Sentara RMH has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with AHEC, and we thank them for their years of service to our patients and staff members,” Mowbray said.
Although interpretation services at the hospital were a major part of their operation, April Hicks, CHITT’s Director of Operations, said they will still provide language services and interpreter training in the Shenandoah Valley.
“Our intention is to remain a local, community-focused, language service provider,” Hicks said. “Our interpreters live in the communities in which they serve. They have a connection to our community and a desire to help.”
Silvia Garcia Romero, Sentara RMH’s Cultural Diversity Manager at Sentara RMH, said The Language Group’s virtual translators have been particularly useful with safety precautions in place at the hospital due to the novel coronavirus.
“We always work to meet the communication needs of all our patients,” Romero said. “Since the pandemic, for safety purposes, we have provided over-the-phone and video interpreter services for patients in COVID isolation.”
However, the hospital’s staff were no strangers to virtual interpretation by the time it was really needed.
“We have been using over the phone and video remote interpreting for many years,” Romero said. “Having these options during the pandemic means that we are able to minimize face-to face encounters while still providing interpretation services.”
Those interpretation services have been crucial, as COVID-19 has disproportionally impacted Latino communities in Virginia’s Central Shenandoah Health District, which includes Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. As of Wednesday, 1,182 (21.9 percent) of the confirmed positive cases, 59 of the hospitalizations (20.9 percent), and six of the 73 deaths due to COVID (8.2 percent) in the district have been Latinos, who make up less than 10 percent of the district’s population.
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