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Prioritizing marginalized communities in the health care system

By Josh Friesen
For Ignite Magazine
Photos by Jason Hill

Transparent, honest and accurate communication isn’t just key to increasing health care access — it’s vital for establishing trust.

“Communication is everything,” said Armando Jimenez, M.P.H. ’20, CPH, the director of language services at OHSU. “If we do not prioritize the needs of an individual — be it linguistic or any other kind of need — we are violating the cardinal rule of trust.”

Jimenez completed his graduate program from the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health in the spring of 2020 and immediately joined the effort to confront the COVID-19 pandemic. Working as an operations lead at the Hillsboro Stadium Vaccination Center, he saw firsthand how breakdowns in communication negatively impacted non-English speaking patients.

The initial response to COVID-19 fell short in its messaging to non-English speaking populations and highlighted the need for swift change. A lack of equitable, understandable communication not only obstructed care for communities with limited English proficiency, it validated and deepened their mistrust in a health care system by which they had already felt marginalized.

In Hillsboro, Jimenez advocated to increase language access, working with community partners and interpreters to close the health equity gap.

“We were very involved in rolling out vaccinations, but recognized the distrust in the community because of the lack of trusted messengers,” Jimenez said. “When we provided language access to information through communication, through direct patient conversations, we were able to see that the community was more likely to participate in vaccination and prevention efforts.”

I think it speaks volumes that we have a central department dedicated to managing language access.”

Armando Jimenez

Jimenez continues to advance language access at OHSU — in the last year, the number of employed translators and interpreters at OHSU has more than doubled. As director of language services, he oversees a team of interpreters, who specialize in verbal communication, and translators, who specialize in written messaging. Jimenez and his team work to ensure access to anything a patient might need in a non-English language.

Language Services is part of OHSU’s recently formed Health Equity Organization, whose leadership team includes Jimenez. He hopes to inspire a future in which comprehensive language inclusion isn’t an add-on to the health care system — rather, it’s built in from the beginning.

“I hope to see a health care system and a society that continue to prioritize the needs of marginalized individuals and communities rather than having things like language access as an afterthought,” he said. “I think it speaks volumes that we have a central department dedicated to managing language access. It demonstrates an investment by OHSU to making sure these services are provided.”

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