In Somali, there’s a popular term for going to the doctor: maalintii oo dhan. It means “all day.” The expression is often muttered by those who need interpreters during their health care visits in City Heights, usually after waiting several hours to be seen.
Mid-City Community Advocacy Network’s Access to Healthcare Momentum Team is attempting to solve this issue through a series of workshops for the Somali, Somali Bantu and Korean communities as the first step toward developing higher standards for quality interpretation services.
These workshops are part of a Participatory Action Research project, which includes several stages to find a solution. People identify what their experiences are through community-led surveys and, based on the data, create their own guidelines for health care interpretation.
“This research is an avenue to create standards and regulations that people are satisfied with, the level of details involved in the process to empower people about their rights. “This research provides the issue but it also provides a solution, which is what makes it so valuable.”
William Oswald is the associate executive director for Research and Evaluation at the California Endowment’s Global Action Research Center. Oswald is leading several of these workshops based on a study he conducted two years ago of 220 women. The study found that nearly 80 percent of women in City Heights spoke little or no English, and about 70 percent had no idea what was going on during their health care visits.
“When they were at the doctor, what their after-care was, what they were supposed to do with their drugs, they just didn’t have a clue,” Oswald said. “When they signed papers they had no idea what they were signing. Women who needed interpretation waited twice as long for the doctor. The women can tell endless stories of things that happened that shouldn’t have happened because they were misunderstood.”
That initial study helped generate a conversation in the community. The Access to Healthcare team decided the people who needed help should be the people to find the answers.
“For years we have been trying to fix problems without talking to the people who live with them,” Oswald said. “And if you have faith in the intelligence of the community, then really it’s about creating the space for them to articulate what the issues are and find the solutions.”
Isha Aweyso, 19, is among those attending the workshops. Aweyso’s family is from Somalia, but they moved to the United States in 2005 from Nairobi, Kenya. Since then, they have struggled to understand health care in the United States.
“These PAR workshops are really interesting,” she said. “I like listening to everyone’s experiences. It gives us hope and makes us feel like we can make things better.”
Another participant described the type of doctor’s office he hopes will come to be.
[Is “he” correct here, do we have a name?]
“The clinic environment would be culturally appropriate,” he said. “The people who work in the clinic would be a diverse group of people who are from different backgrounds and actually represent the community.”
Those involved in the effort have no doubt that a practical answer will be found by the people who need it the most themselves.
“It has to be in their voice,” Oswald said. “I have absolute faith in this community to figure out a solution, and it will be a good one.”