In September 2020, the following letter to CEO Jennifer DeCubellis was signed by over 450 healthcare providers/employees at Hennepin Healthcare.

Dear Jennifer,

We, the undersigned medical and mental health providers of Hennepin Healthcare, are writing to you with serious concern and dismay about the status of interpreting services here at our beloved institution. It has been clear to us for some years now that ISD leadership has been working to reduce the presence of in-person interpreters in favor of telephone and video modalities. And for years, we have been giving the feedback that this is unacceptable. Now, with the pandemic, ISD leadership seems to have doubled down on its approach, as live interpretation has been further curtailed. Meanwhile our Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients suffer.

Our patients – all of them – deserve the best care we can offer, and for those who do not speak English primarily, the best care means having an in-person interpreter present throughout their encounter. All of us, from departments as varied as Pediatrics, Medicine, Psychology, ED, APS, and more, have story upon story of encounters that in one way or another were of poor quality due primarily to the lack of in-person interpretation. It may be as simple as trying to counsel parents using a phone interpreter while a screaming child is in the room. Or it may be a dying patient in the ICU who cannot hear or understand the video interpreter because of the noise. Or the communication of a new terminal or disabling diagnosis. Or an altered or demented patient in distress. In these scenarios, and many many more, what’s needed most is exactly what a phone or video interpreter cannot offer: human connection in a time of great vulnerability. All of us – providers and interpreters – have felt that profoundly satisfying feeling of the moment when we know we are doing it right: we are all in the room together; the patient feels heard and understood; they feel that we care for them…. because we do.

None of us is feeling that feeling right now. Not the providers. Not the interpreters. And not our patients.

Finally, you have made some admirable statements about HHS’s commitment to racial justice. We all hope and believe that this is sincere. But the hypocrisy of claiming commitment to health care equity while diverting this critical resource away from mostly Black and Brown patients is stark. These are the very people who are disproportionately harmed by our society’s economic policies, housing policies, abusive policing, and biased or even racist medical care. If we really intend to undo the harm we’ve done, we need to pour more – not fewer – resources into giving “exceptional care without exception” to those who have hitherto not been getting it.

We ask you to please commit to returning, and then expanding, in-person interpretation for our patients.

Providing In-Person Language Interpretation is a Health Equity Consideration