KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

RVA/Henrico Freelance Medical Interpreters Denied the COVID Vaccine

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My name is Kelly and I’m a Spanish medical interpreter in the greater Richmond area.
For those of you who don’t know, a medical interpreter accompanies patients with Limited English Proficiency to doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, what have you, to facilitate communication between them and doctors, nurses, and other members of their healthcare team. As an independent contractor, I’m in 3-4 different medical facilities per day, including hospitals. As such, I belong to phase 1A of the vaccination schedule.

In late December, I started contacting VDH (the Virginia Department of Health), which to this day has proven to be fruitless. I was fortunate enough to have both an agency that I contract with as well as a facility I interpret at offer me the vaccine, which I of course took advantage of. But, the rest of my colleagues? Not so lucky. Of over a dozen Richmond City and Henrico interpreters I know or have talked to, I’m the only one who has been vaccinated.

I can’t help but notice… I’m white. I’m not Hispanic. The rest of the interpreters who haven’t been vaccinated that I just mentioned? The vast majority of them are Hispanic and/or Black.
I’ve been trying my best to help my colleagues get vaccinated. One colleague in particular? She’s taken every single step I’ve taken, and then some, and still no luck.

We both started reaching out to VDH (Virginia Department of Health), RCHD (Richmond City Health District), and Henrico back in late December. We filled out all the forms (multiple times, when prompted), sent all the e-mails, made all the calls, spoken with supervisors, only to be repeatedly given lip service or sent a copy/pasted e-mail response with information about vaccine phases.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing folks sign up through these same forms as late as last week who have been able to get their vaccine appointments scheduled. I’m not saying these folks shouldn’t be vaccinated… I think everyone should get vaccinated, but it makes no sense that we’re breezing through these phases, claiming to include unvaccinated 1A folks in phase 1B, but doing no such thing.

I wrote an article on my website compiling vaccination information for freelance medical interpreters across the country. I know vaccine efforts vary widely by locality. I’ve spoken with dozens of interpreters, if not over 100, and have had better luck helping interpreters in other states get vaccinated… from my office right here in RVA.

[I’ve] have had better luck helping interpreters in other states get vaccinated… from my office right here in [Richmond, Virginia].

VDH has to do better. RVA and Henrico have to do better. I truly believe it’s no coincidence that VDH made national news for a critical mistranslation on their website that told Spanish-speakers they didn’t have to get the vaccine… because they used Google Translate and not a professional translator. Language access and health information for minorities during this critical time appear to be an afterthought, at best. I contacted VDH in August about some other problematic translations, and nothing has been done about them to this day.

We’ve all seen the news about health disparities during this pandemic. Now we’re seeing news about white folks cutting the line to get vaccinated before communities of color. If we want to address these inequities in RVA, we have to address this.

So, here we have medical professionals working in high-risk environments every day, comprised almost entirely of immigrant people of color, whole sole purpose is to increase healthcare access for other, predominantly immigrant people of color, and they are being systematically denied this life-saving vaccine. We’re already seeing the consequences in other states. The U.S. interpreter community is already collectively mourning the loss of our colleagues who passed away from COVID that they contracted in the line of duty. I’m terrified that my colleagues will be next.
We need to address these disparities, and there’s no time to waste.

So, here we have medical professionals working in high-risk environments every day, comprised almost entirely of immigrant people of color, whole sole purpose is to increase healthcare access for other, predominantly immigrant people of color, and they are being systematically denied this life-saving vaccine.

Interpreters play a critical role in addressing these disparities. After I got my shot, I wore my sticker saying I had been vaccinated on my lapel until the adhesive wore off! Folks see me, they know me, they know I speak Spanish. Folks would approach me and ask me things like, “You got the vaccine? Weren’t you scared after hearing about all the people on the news who have died from the vaccine?” This opens the door to combat the misinformation that is rampant in these communities.

Vaccinating interpreters is like a buy one, get one free deal. Vaccinate us, the communities who distrust the healthcare establish (and honestly, rightfully so), but trust in us interpreters, who are more than willing to put our money where our mouths are. They’ll see people they trust taking and trusting in this vaccine.

Governor Northam, Mayor Stoney, VDH, RCHD, Henrico, whoever is listening, PLEASE help my medical interpreter colleagues. Their exposure is high. They work with communities that are at a greater risk of contracting this virus. We’ve been taken advantage of so much during this pandemic. PLEASE let my colleagues get this vaccine. I’m scared for them, and I feel like we’re being brushed aside, just like the communities we serve.

This is the transcript from a video I posted on my YouTube channel and across social media networks in an effort to draw attention to the vaccination disparities in my area. The following sources, divided by category, are all articles I included screenshots of in the aforementioned video.

Relevant Articles

COVID-19 Health Disparities

COVID-19 Vaccination Disparities

Interpreter Casualties of COVID-19

Mistranslation on VDH Website

About the author

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

Kelly is a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI-Spanish) through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). She works as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical interpreter and also specializes in mental health interpretation.

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KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

I am a Certified Medical/Healthcare Interpreter (CMI-Spanish, CHI-Spanish) and a medical interpreter trainer. I work as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical interpreter. Click here to read more about me.

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