About 1 in 5 people living in America speak a language other than English at home.

It’s imperative that those people – that all people – understand their medical situation and the care being provided to them. That’s why Novant Health ensures that every patient receiving care at one of our medical centers fully understands what’s happening. And that their families do, too.

It’s the job of cultural ambassadors to do just that. But cultural ambassadors at Novant Health do a lot more than interpret.

For instance, when a woman who had been transferred to palliative care asked to hear music in her final days, cultural ambassador George Gonzalez brought his guitar to play for her. And when a Catholic, Spanish-speaking woman facing a dire diagnosis wanted someone to pray with her, one of the 20 cultural ambassadors prayed with her and provided her with a rosary.

This team makes patients who don’t speak English feel at home. In fact, they offer them some of the comforts and customs of their homeland. And they’re providing those services for a lot of patients.

Roughly one-fourth of patients coming through the doors of Novant Health’s health care facilities don’t speak English.

“Our programs are about providing resources and having a relationship-based approach to patients,” said Pedro Mendez, Novant Health’s director of language and cultural services. “It’s not a transactional approach in which you provide your service and then you get out of there. This is more involved. We connect patients with the community resources they need. It’s not just about their medical needs. It could be connecting them to a food pantry or to transportation.

“We are attacking the barriers of health equity,” he added.

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It’s what Maria Claudia Mesiemore, coordinator of interpreter education, calls “bridging the gap.”

“Patients understand that our navigators are there not only for them, but also for their families,” she said. “It's from the beginning to the end. For example, with somebody going through chemotherapy, an interpreter/navigator is with them from the time they go to the first appointment all the way to the end until they finish all their treatment. They give the support that the patient needs and the support that the family needs, too.”

Novant Health offers interpretation services in 120 languages at all its facilities. The interpretations are conducted in person, by phone or via video, depending on the availability of a medical interpreter.

Language services include interpretation in Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Hindi, Polish, Hungarian and even dialects of languages, said Mesiemore.

The program isn’t static. It evolves with the needs of the patient population. Spanish interpreters are what’s most needed now – so Spanish speakers make up the majority of the team – but if the population shifts, this team will shift to keep up.

“This program really is all about health equity,” Mendez said. “It's about removing barriers, and it goes beyond the language-access goals. Our team will go the extra mile. They will not be limited to one role; they are able to go into that navigation role. They literally start looking for ways to help.”

“It’s not just that this team can communicate with patients in their language,” he added. “We also understand the cultural aspects of who they are and can connect them with resources in the community."

Novant Health Interpreter Services

Phone: 980-302-9591

Email: Interpreterservices@novanthealth.org