Allentown residents who speak languages other than English will now be able to communicate with first responders through a pilot program using interpretation technology.
Allentown Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the Allentown Health Bureau will use interpreter services through a program with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN).
LVHN is providing the Health Bureau and Allentown EMS with video remote interpreting (VRI) technology so they can quickly and effectively connect with LVHN’s trained medical interpreters or be routed to a contracted vendor that provides translation services in Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, American Sign Language and other world languages.
The technology is available 24-7 every day of the year and is accessible on iPads that were purchased with funding from The Health Care Trust of Anne Constance and Carl Robert Anderson at LVHN.
Allentown EMS received five iPads – one for each of its emergency vehicles. The Health Bureau was given two iPads to travel with staff to community events, such as vaccination clinics, throughout the city.
“Our diversity is our strength,” said Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, who said nearly half of the residents speak languages other than English. “One of the goals of our administration is to improve access to essential services and amenities for our residents – this program helps us do that for our community where people speak many different languages.”
Allentown EMS relies on approximately 50 full and part time paramedics, who respond to more than 16,000 calls annually. While they are trained in emergency care and advanced life support, very few are fluent in languages other than English, he said.
“This technology will bridge the gap between patient and paramedic. Without VRI, when our paramedics interact with patients who do not speak English, translation is primitive at best. We hope to optimize patient care through clear and accurate translation of any language, and thanks to this program we can,” said Mehmet Barzev, EMS chief of operations.
Public health officials and clinicians at the Health Bureau serve thousands of residents each year by providing health services, education, and most recently, COVID-19 vaccinations. However, most of the staff is not bilingual, he said.
“The donation of these iPads to the Health Bureau will further support efforts to provide culturally appropriate care,” said Vicky Kistler, director of Community and Economic Development. “The donation improves confidentiality and allows for a more natural interaction between the patient and the caregiver. We greatly appreciate this generous gift.”
The pilot program with the City of Allentown was the brainchild of Joumana De Santiago, manager of Interpreter Services at LVHN.
“We all know that in an emergency, every second counts. Communication between patients and emergency responders is fundamental to providing quality care – and this service will ensure language barriers don’t become care barriers and waste precious time,” said De Santiago. “This partnership will not only benefit patients and our partners at the Allentown Health Bureau and Allentown Emergency Medical Services – it will ensure our caregivers have accurate and reliable medical information so they can provide the best care possible.”
LVHN anticipates the program with the City of Allentown will help reduce trauma and anxiety associated with medical emergencies and result in better health outcomes for thousands of patients and their families for whom English is not their preferred language. LVHN provides more than seven million minutes of interpreter services annually.r