Jacqueline Ortiz Honored for Increasing Patient Access to Interpreter Services

Jacqueline Ortiz Honored for Increasing Patient Access to Interpreter Services

October 10, 20234 min read

Fifty-eight years ago, a young man from Argentina wound up in surgery at a California hospital after stomach pains turned out to be peritonitis, a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the membrane lining the abdominal wall. He was discharged to his wife’s care, with one problem — neither the man nor his wife had any idea how to care for the open wound in his abdomen.

                                                     Jacqueline Ortiz 

The couple did not understand the lengthy instructions delivered in English, and there was no interpreter to explain to them in their native Spanish what to expect.

So, when the man tried to take a bath and discovered the gauze was stuck to his wound, he didn’t know what to do. Fear and uncertainty compounded an already stressful time.

Jacqueline Ortiz wasn’t yet born when her father’s health care emergency took place, but growing up she heard the story over and over.

It was more than family lore for Ortiz — it was a lesson.

Ortiz said she wanted her mother, pictured with her at the DVTA event, to see the growing number of people working as interpreters to ensure people get the information they need in the language they understand.

Ortiz, now the vice president for Health Equity and Cultural Competence at ChristianaCare, saw firsthand how the experience left her parents terrified of the medical environment.

Removing barriers to good health

Years later, Ortiz is a leader in advocating for patients to have access to qualified, culturally responsive medical interpreting services to remove communication barriers with providers and ensure the best possible care and outcomes.

“Language access is what fills my heart and soul,” Ortiz said.

Her pioneering efforts and enthusiasm for promoting the use of trained interpreters in health care earned Ortiz the inaugural Making an Impact Award from the Delaware Valley Translators Association (DVTA) during an event Sept. 9 at Widener University.

In her role at ChristianaCare, she builds the organization’s capacity to reduce the incidence of disease and improve health outcomes, advance equitable health care services, and reduce health disparities for identified conditions and target populations through culturally competent care, including providing health care in patients’ native languages.

She has over 20 years of experience researching, teaching and working in cultural competence and health equity, social networks, and economic sociology.

“Language access is what fills my heart and soul,” Ortiz said.

A vision for serving everyone

Eliane Sfeir-Markus, CHI, president of the DVTA, said the award recognizes the efforts of those working to make interpreting and translation more available to people with limited English proficiency, and those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Ortiz’s pioneering work to expand language services for patients and implement comprehensive cultural competence training at ChristianaCare have set a standard for caring for patients in their native languages.

“Jaki’s vision for a health care system that truly serves everyone, regardless of their cultural or linguistic background, is inspiring,” Sfeir-Markus said. “We as patients deserve someone who knows our culture to take care of us.”

ChristianaCare has more than 20 health care interpreters and over 100 caregivers who have undergone additional training to provide interpreting services when needed.

ChristianaCare has more than 20 health care interpreters — who wear eggplant-colored uniforms — and over 100 bilingual caregivers who have undergone special training to serve as interpreters in some settings.

“Jaki is a well-known name in the field of interpreting and translation because she has advocated for education and professionalization of interpreters in health care,” said Claudia Reyes-Hull, MArch, CMI, CHI, manager of Cultural and Linguistic Programs at ChristianaCare.

“Thanks to her advocacy, more health care systems are recognizing the need to have trained interpreters for their patients.”

In accepting the award, Ortiz said interpreters play a critical role in health care by making it possible for patients — and their families — to take an active role in their own care and decrease the anxiety over visiting a health care provider.

She credited the success of ChristianaCare’s interpreting and translations services and its continued growth to the collaborative spirit and camaraderie among its team of caregivers, particularly Reyes-Hull.

Ortiz said her family’s personal experience with a lack of interpreting services during a hospital stay made them anxious about health care for years.

“Probably all of us in this room have walked into a courtroom or a lawyer’s office or a hospital room or a clinic and introduced ourselves and seen that immediate response and relaxation in the person we were speaking with,” Ortiz said to the translators at the DVTA event.

“You make those interactions within our legal, educational and health care systems so much better.”

Connect with:
  • Jacqueline Ortiz, M.Phil
    Jacqueline Ortiz, M.Phil Vice President of Health Equity and Cultural Competence

    Jacqueline Ortiz, M. Phil. is the vice president for Health Equity and Cultural Competence at ChristianaCare.

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