Northwest Asian Weekly
For new immigrants, coming to America without knowing the language may sometimes make the experience unpleasant. What can make the situation really worrisome is not being able to relay health-related inquires.
Fortunately, with the presence of International Community Health Services (ICHS) in Seattle, API members who are not fluent in English can receive proper medical care with the help of interpreters.
A 26-year-old woman went to ICHS after learning that she has a blood clot near the optic nerves in her brain. She spoke anonymously because she worries that her job may be adversely affected if her employer were to find out about her clot.
Coming to America from China three years ago, the woman does not speak fluent English. However, she has been a frequent visitor of ICHS.
“I was really worried and I had a lot of questions,” the woman said in Cantonese. “Each time I visited the Holly Park clinic, there were interpreters to help me.”
She was referred to a specialist for further MRI scanning. In the end, she was told that she needs regular checkups every 6 months.
“In China, doctors often look annoyed if you ask a lot of questions. In here, doctors make sure that you have everything answered before you leave,” the woman explained.
She said the interpretation service that ICHS provided made a huge difference in terms of how she felt about her illness at the time.
“The interpreters are very patient and helpful. Sometimes, I feel like they treat me even better than my own family,” she said. “It makes me think that choosing to come to America was the right choice.”
Over the past 27 years, ICHS has helped many patients within the Asian American community. “We see everybody that comes to our doors,” said Hiroshi Nakano, one of the board members of ICHS.
“My family is an immigrant family who came to Seattle during the Boeing bust in the early 70s,” said Teresita Batayola, ICHS Executive Director. “We went through similar experiences and have managed to survive and succeed. My parents were involved in the community and today, different family members continue to volunteer. I have been involved since my teens, and it feels natural to continue to serve in our community … ICHS’ mission hits my core values because health is very basic along with food, shelter and a job.”
One of the commitments that ICHS has made to their patients is having well-trained and certified medical translators at its clinics.
“We provide services in about 30 different languages and dialects,” Nakano said.
Kristy Yuan, a health assistant at ICHS who provides interpretation services for patients, said that it is very important for new immigrants or people who do not speak fluent English to stay healthy and feel good about living in this country.
“Providing professional interpretation service for the patients is the most important part of our job,” said Yuan, who can speak Cantonese and Mandarin. “We bring accurate information in between patients and doctors and interpret with nurses on the phone.”
Yuan said that one of her memorable experiences at ICHS was her encounter with a female patient who was anxious about having multiple health problems.
“She always called and came to the clinic to seek help on her medical problems. Every time she needed Cantonese interpretation, I would always be patient and interpret for her,” Yuan said. “She felt much better after she found out that her problem could be solved.”
According to clinic’s website, the establishment of ICHS can be traced back to the early 1970s when a group of advocates decided to bring “culturally appropriate medical services” to the elderly Chinese and Filipino patients to the Seattle region. Back then, there were not many doctors who spoke Asian languages, so low-income Asians often faced language barriers when they needed medical services.
During the early days, the ICHS operated only on Tuesdays and Saturdays, using the space of another clinic located on Beacon Hill. In 1975, ICHS moved to the International District and established its own location.
The organization, originally named Asian Community Health Clinic, was renamed ICHS in 1996 when the second clinic, the Holly Park Medical and Dental Clinic, was opened, reflecting the increased diversity of patients they served in the South Seattle region.
“[We are currently] working really hard to tell our stories and do more in terms of reaching out to the communities,” said Nakano.
“Our patients tend to be low income and lack insurance and, because of the language and cultural barriers, we need staff at all levels to be culturally competent, and preferably speak two or more languages,” said Batayola. “The majority of our patients are immigrants and refugees who have experienced hardships and challenges to be here, so it is critical that our staffs relate and understand those experiences and help them obtain care now and into the future.”
Nakano said that the members of ICHS are in the process of looking at potential extension sites due to the increased demand from patients.
“We are trying to adjust to all the changes in the state budget,” said Nakano.
“We had a lot of growth and we will continue to grow.”
ICHS has been named a Pioneer in Healthcare by Northwest Asian Weekly. They will be honored at an awards banquet on Oct. 1.
“I’m proud of ICHS because ICHS cares and cures patients,” Yuan said. ♦
Meet ICHS staff members at our Pioneers in Healthcare awards banquet.
Jocelyn Chui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.