As a union, Interpreters at Hennepin Healthcare wear Red on Wednesdays to highlight the issues we have been experiencing at the hospital. We must remember the patients we serve at Hennepin are some of the most vulnerable and the most impacted by this pandemic, especially those who require our service which include immigrants and broadly those who have limited English proficiency. If racial equity is a core value at this hospital, it must be recognized that interpreters play an important role in addressing racial disparities in access to medical care. Our patients’ lives are at stake. These are not the only issues we are concerned about and we support other unionized staff here in their concerns as well. These ongoing issues and demands require urgent resolution:

1. Prioritizing in-person interpretation as best practice: While we respect and honor social distancing to address the safety concerns of our patients during this pandemic, study after study shows that in-person interpretation ensures better outcomes. Hennepin Healthcare must agree to adopt a system wide policy that prioritizes in-person interpreting over all other modalities, so that when we are no longer in this crisis, we can return to providing the best care possible. In-person interpretation is not only necessary but a key asset for our communities we serve.

2. More on the floor: Prior to this pandemic, interpreters were increasingly spending more time on video remote interpreting, while not sufficiently addressing the demand and need for many of our limited English proficiency patients, especially those in the Somali community. We must hire more full-time interpreters to address this need. Our department had experienced lay-offs during this crisis of two interpreters that were “low needed” and have threatened to lay off more. We know of no other department at this time that has experienced lay-offs during this emergency. How does laying off workers that provide access to care and address racial inequities actually solve racial disparities? It doesn’t- and we need to reverse course.

3. Hennepin Healthcare Patients First: Prior to this pandemic and throughout this crisis we have seen an increase in the interpretation of Health Care Interpreter Network calls- this is a system where interpreters provide interpreting services for other hospitals for revenue. Before the pandemic we had seen these calls prioritized over local patients while there were queues for requests for in-person interpretation. While the demand for in-person interpretation has decreased in the time of the pandemic, and network calls have increased dramatically, we know physicians are being discouraged from requesting an in-person interpreter when it is necessary here. We seek to be of service to all those limited English proficient patients who need our care, starting with our neighbors.

4.  Protecting interpreters well-being: We are trying to reach a settlement for our contract and Hennepin Healthcare continues to attack some of the most important protections we have for our interpreters here at the hospital including a memorandum of understanding around the amount of time interpreters can be required to spend on VRI. As we have noted  this increase in remote interpretation is not only bad for our interpreters, it is bad for our patients. We need Hennepin Healthcare to honor our standards and recognize that it is in everyone’s interest to protect the wellbeing of our workers. Furthermore, there is much more that needs to be done to address and support the mental and emotional toll this work in this crisis has had on our lives. We must expand safeguards, not eliminate them.

Why do Interpreters Wear Red on Wednesdays?