Elsa Aguilar Bustos serves as a medical interpreter at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, helping Latino patients navigate the intricacies of treatment for COVID-19 and other procedures.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, Latinos account for 10% of Maryland’s population, but 23% of COVID-19 cases. Baltimore’s Latinos also have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“An interpreter is the voice of the patient when they cannot speak English,” said Stella Karias, who was Bustos’ manager for five years. “An interpreter’s role is very important during medical discussions, especially in making sure that the message is effectively communicated. They are a very important part of the clinical team.”
When the pandemic began, Bayview pushed for interpreters to work from home to minimize exposure and to accommodate for the lack of personal protective equipment, but Bustos said that wasn’t an option for her. “She wanted to continue to come in and serve our patients face-to-face,” Karias said.
Bustos, who contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, is now back at Bayview. She has worked the night shift for the past nine years and has no plans to retire. Bustos said she can interpret for up to 10 patients on any given night. “When we’re called for an emergency, we have to be there,” she said.
The pandemic has elevated the need for qualified, professional medical interpreters who are not only fluent but also trained in cultural sensitivity and removing emotional bias. Karias said in addition to being well-versed in medical terminology, diagnoses, and treatments, interpreters nurture trust between the patient, their family, and their doctors.
“What I can tell you about Elsa is that she loved her job and she was very caring and compassionate with patients,” Karias said. “She was very familiar with the community and with the different organizations. She didn’t only interpret for them, but she wanted to help them in any other way she could.”
Author: Garcia, Stephanie
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