In the United States, there’s already a federal law stating hospitals have to provide equal language access to limited English proficient (LEP) patients — including qualified medical interpreters. But Rachel Showstack wants to make this a law in Kansas too, making hospitals that don’t provide interpreters subject to both federal and state repercussions.
Showstack is a Spanish professor at Wichita State University in Kansas. She focuses on language accessibility in health care. “One of the biggest issues is people not knowing that they have the right to an interpreter and that they should ask for one,” she told Wichita newspaper The Sunflower. She herself started learning about area interpreting after a local clinic called the college, asking Showstack if any of her students could come interpret.
“That’s why I started to investigate what someone needs to know in order to be an interpreter and the more I looked into it, the more I found out that…the federal legislation that supports health equity for speakers of minoritized languages is really not being upheld,” she said.
Certification for medical interpreters has been available in the US since 2009. But despite this, Kansas doesn’t mandate hospital and medical clinic interpreters be certified. According to The Sunflower, prospective interpreters there aren’t even required to undergo a minimum amount of training hours.
“That’s why [Showstack is] advocating for legislation that would require interpreters to obtain professional training before serving Kansas healthcare providers,” Sunflower reporter Matthew Kelly writes, “She’s also urging lawmakers to require that the state’s federally funded hospitals develop and implement language access plans that describe their language services — the steps they take to inform patients of said services and their procedures for training staff on language policies.”
Showstack is partnering with state representative Susan Ruiz (D – Johnson County) on the proposed legislation, which could be introduced as early as the state’s next legislative session.