In hospitals, safety begins with communicatio

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lia Lee, the child of Hmong-speaking parents, died as much from miscommunication as from illness. When Lia was a few months old, she started experiencing seizures. Twice, she was misdiagnosed with pneumonia because her parents couldn't describe her symptoms to her doctors. When she was finally diagnosed, she was prescribed a complex regime of medications that her parents couldn't understand how to administer. With doctors and parents unable to communicate, Lia experienced a grand mal seizure.

Unfortunately, the Lees' experience is not uncommon. According to the 2000 Census, over 21 million Americans speak English less than "very well," and 22.5 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander speakers either don't speak English well or can't speak it at all.

Some people have family members to help them, but that can lead to other problems. If a husband acts as an interpreter for his wife, the doctor will have difficulty asking her about spousal abuse. Even when family members mean well, they are not medical experts and may mistranslate or fail to report every symptom that the patient describes.

In a 2003 study, researchers analyzed 13 patient-doctor encounters that involved an ad hoc translator, such as a nurse, social worker or siblings. On average, these translators made 31 mistakes per encounter. Seventy-seven percent of these errors could have had clinical consequences.

Hospitals can help avoid mistakes by using medical interpreters, or trained professionals who facilitate communication between patients and doctors. Hospitals are required to offer interpreters, but it's an unfunded mandate: only 13 states offer Medicaid reimbursement for interpreters.

"In addition to improving quality of care and patient safety, language services reimbursement would alleviate the financial burden faced by hospitals with a large population of Limited English Proficient patients." said Mursal Khaliif, senior director of multilingual services at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard University Medical School Teaching Hospital in Cambridge, Mass.



Preserving Hmong Rituals

reserving Hmong Rituals

Bride and groom in traditional Hmong ceremony

Bride and groom Crystal Vang and Tom Yang, married in a traditional Hmong
ceremony May, 2011 in Vadnais Heights. Photo: Yeng Lor Photography.
For thousands of years, Hmong marriage and funeral traditions and songs have been passed down from generation to generation.

Txong Pao Lee, who came to St. Paul 26 years ago from a refugee camp in Thailand, wants to make sure those traditions never get lost.

“Hmong kids born in this country can’t always understand Hmong,” said Lee, the executive director of the Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul. “We want to make these traditions accessible for everyone.”

$6,500 from the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant Program is making it possible for the Hmong Cultural Center to produce new editions of two books about Hmong marriage and funeral traditions and to translate those books into English. The books will be available in print and for free on the Cultural Center’s website.

“By making these important cultural traditions available to everyone, we are preserving them for many years to come.”
~ Txong Pao Lee, executive director of the Hmong Cultural Center



Ceremony to honor Hmong hero set for Friday Read more:

The Wisconsin Lao Veterans of America Chapter 8 will hold a white flower and candle lighting event Friday at the Hmong Culture Community Center, 1815 Ward Ave., in honor of General Vang Pao, who died in January 2011.

Pao, a U.S. ally who commanded CIA-funded guerrillas in the jungles of Laos during the Vietnam War, is revered as a leader and father figure by the Hmong and Lao people he helped to resettle across the globe after Saigon fell. He died at age 81 near Fresno, Calif., after battling pneumonia.

The candle lighting event marks the first anniversary of the general’s death and the new year