"They made me feel like I was with my own people in my own country."
As a college-trained graphic designer and fine artist in her native Chile, Ana Maria Martin always had a flair for expressing herself, both verbally and through the strokes of her paintings. But when she found herself in the foreign world of an American hospital last year – undergoing knee replacement surgery at BMC – she knew she needed help not only translating English, but also the barrage of medical terms suddenly surrounding her.
“They always made sure I understood everything in my own language, every step, what was going to happen, what was happening, and what was going to happen after,” said Ana, 64, who lives in Pittsfield with her daughter and three young grandchildren. “They made me feel like I was with my own people in my own country.”
Ana is not alone. As the cultural texture of the Berkshires has been enriched in recent decades by the arrival of people of many nationalities, the number of languages spoken in households here has grown exponentially. Historically, cities like Pittsfield, with often parish-centered ethnic neighborhoods, always had taken pride in their immigrant roots. That tradition continued through the turn of the 21st century, as more speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hindi, and other languages settled here.
That great diversity has created the need to provide an increasing level of interpretive services at BMC and Fairview Hospital. Ten years ago, the program was started with two per diem Spanish translators managing a small handful of cases. By 2008, the new Language and Translation Services Department was launched, with one full-time manager and 13 per diem interpreters serving three main languages. Outside agencies are on call to translate 200 other languages.
In 2012, more than 5,500 in-person translation sessions were held at BMC, on the inpatient floors, as well as the Emergency Department and outpatient service areas, a more than 30 percent increase over 2011. Another 1,500 translations were done by phone and more than 100 via online video.
Ana Martin’s own daughter, Veronica Bedard, is the manager of the program. “Like a lot of people, she was afraid they would ask her something important, and she wouldn't understand,” said Veronica. “She’s the perfect example of someone who needs that extra help navigating the great health system we have available here.”
As for Ana herself, she has emerged from years of crippling arthritis with a new knee and a new lease on life. “My life has changed greatly because now I am able to play more with my grandchildren, spend more time with them. I can paint with them and cook and bake with them in the kitchen without having to be sitting down all the time.”