Don't let language discourage use of hospice

Multilingual staff, interpreters bridge the gap

One of the most important parts of a hospice staff member's or volunteer's job is to make sure that patients and family members understand what is being done to provide comfort and how they can be part of the process. It is not an easy process, but when the family and patient speak a different language, it can be a significant challenge.

"We do have access to interpreter services in our community, but we are fortunate to have Spanish-speaking staff members as well," says Joan Hanson, RN, BSN, director of New Life Hospice in Elyria, OH. "When we admit a Spanish-speaking patient, we try to assign a nurse and aide that speak Spanish," Hanson says.

There also is a group of six to eight volunteers at New Life Hospice who speak Spanish, she says. The agency's volunteer coordinator speaks Spanish as a second language, and she has made presentations to Latino groups to recruit volunteers.

Dale Knee, MHCA, president and chief executive officer of Covenant Hospice in Pensacola, FL, says, "We try to hire bilingual staff members, but 60% to 70% of our patients live in very rural areas, and it is hard to find bilingual staff in those areas." Covenant Hospice keeps a computerized list of all staff members and community interpreters who can interpret over the phone and makes that list accessible to all staff members. "We are fortunate that a local university has a Japanese program with professors willing to interpret for us," he says. Professors in other language programs also are interpreters for the hospice.

In addition to finding someone who can speak with patients and family members, provide written patient education material in different languages, says Hanson. "We have all of our patient education material in Spanish as well as English," she says.

It might be impossible to develop print materials for every language you may encounter, so choose the populations you most often serve, suggests Knee. "We have a large Vietnamese population due to the fishing industry, and our Spanish-speaking population is growing, so we offer materials in those two languages."