Virginia Language Connections

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Bridging the Language Gap in Health Care

Virginia Language Connections (VLC) is Virginia Poverty Law Center’s language access and interpreter scholarship program. VLC seeks to break down the language barrier preventing community member from accessing care and to connect them with vital health resources.

Since VPLC’s statewide health enrollment assistance program began in 2013, assisters have identified barriers to health care access including lack of health insurance and limited knowledge about free clinics and community health clinics. A lack of in-person interpretation in community members’ preferred languages has also prevented Virginians from accessing care. Our findings include that:

  • Members of different immigrant communities do not feel comfortable with or trust telephonic interpretation (such as a language line). Providers also expressed difficulty with using telephonic interpretation services and obtaining an interpreter.
  • Members of different immigrant communities statewide (especially in rural areas) have expressed they would prefer to try self-medicating at home versus going to a provider who speaks only English.
  • Immigrant community members are prone to complicated medical diagnoses, as they do not address health issues in a timely manner. They are more likely to end up in emergency care.
  • Many community health centers are interested in and have the funds to maintain an interpreter position but do not have a qualified pool of candidates.
  • Those who are qualified for interpreter positions have difficulties accessing the financial and educational resources needed to complete the interpreter program.

In response to these barriers, VLC launched in fall 2023, funding 10 qualified candidates to participate in a language proficiency exam and the nationally recognized Bridging the Gap interpreter certification program. Upon completion of the program, we will connect candidates with job opportunities at designated community health centers within their region in Virginia. Participants in the 2023-2024 Virginia Language Connections cohort completed the Bridging the Gap program in November 2023 and have committed to a 12-month work agreement with a participating health clinic.

Image of a healthcare provider and interpreter working with a patient.

Pictured above: Glady Torres, VLC participant and interpreter at the Farmville Heart of Virginia Free Clinic. Torres says: “As a former Medical Social Worker, I recognized the importance of communication between healthcare providers and patients. During my time as a medical translator at an Immigration Center, I worked with psychologists and psychiatrists and was able to assist patients with translation services. After retiring, I realized that I could continue to make a difference in people’s lives as a translator, particularly for those who struggle with language barriers when seeking medical care. Through my work, I have developed a keen ability to discern the differences between patient and provider perspectives, and I decided to pursue formal training by enrolling in a Medical Translator course. By interpreting for patients, I have gained a deeper understanding of their cultures and how to better assist them with their healthcare needs.”

Are you part of a clinic organization that would be interested in hosting a candidate, or do you have questions about applying for the VLC program? Contact languageconnections@vplc.org to learn more.

Want to learn more about language access resources available to providers? Check out this CMS infographic, complete with information about language access plan development courses.