Monday, February 22, 2010

Part Three: How Can a Language Agency Help Me?

(Back to Part 2.) 

How can a language agency best serve your organization? The answer will depend on the level of demand, your internal resources, the language mix of your patient population, and the capacity of the agencies at your disposal. Most health care and social service institutions use a combination of resources to meet language access needs. Language agencies can be integrated into your language access service in a variety of ways, depending on the needs of your institution.

Auxiliary support for overextended staff and/or contract interpreters
Institutions with in-house staff interpreters, contract interpreters, and trained bilingual staff who interpret, will often call an agency as an auxiliary resource when other (usually less costly) resources are not available. Even if you have three full-time Spanish interpreters on staff, you will need some additional help when seven Spanish-speaking patients all book appointments for 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Or you may have interpreters available only between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and need some help covering the occasional emergency at night. The right agency can fill this need on an ad-hoc basis without your incurring the cost of hiring more staff.

Primary source of interpreters of languages of low demand
Some organizations use agencies primarily to provide interpreters for those languages that they only need occasionally. Even with a full complement of staff interpreters, contracted interpreters and bilingual providers, you may not have anyone who speaks Ibo, Chamorro or Kurdish. Languages such as Khmer, Korean, or Cantonese may be more commonly spoken among your patient population, but you still may not have a large enough demand to warrant contracting or hiring a staff person. Agencies are more likely to have interpreters of languages of limited diffusion.
Also, because agencies generally serve many institutions, they may be able to keep such interpreters busy enough that they seek training and gain sufficient experience to become skilled interpreters.

Substitute for an internal interpreter service
Some institutions find it simpler to outsource all of their language assistance needs; they use the agency as a substitute for an internal interpreter department. In these cases, anyone in the institution who needs an interpreter simply calls the agency directly. This obviates the need for an interpreter service department or complicated decision trees of whom staff should call with language needs.

Source: Roat, Cynthia E. “How to Choose and Use a Language Agency: A Guide for Health and Social Service Providers Who Wish to Contract With Language Agencies.” Los Angeles: The California Endowment, February 2003.

(Go to Part 4.)

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