Interpreter Services at San Francisco General Hospital

by Debra Wilson

If the example of San Francisco General Hospital is any indication, the city’s many non-English speaking medical patients may soon better understand the treatments and medications involved in their health care during their stay in local hospitals. Arising from a difficulty on the part of hospital personnel to communicate with patients who speak only Spanish, Cantonese, Vietnamese and various other languages, “the officials of the San Francisco General Hospital applied for and received federal funds through the mayor’s office to train interpreters in the city’s languages and in medical terminology”, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle of May 16, 1978.

Twenty-seven men and women were trained for this program, in which they are assigned to the various hospital units depending upon the language needs at that particular time. In addition, the interpreters remain on an on-call basis for all other units should the need for their particular language arise elsewhere. Though they are non-medical, the interpreters participate in some aspects of patient care such as grooming, taking vital statistics, and, assisting in light daily exercise. In spite of the fact that the program will be financed only until September through the mayor’s Office of Employment and Training, there is still hope among hospital officials that the funding will continue for at least one year.