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Breaking barriers, one interpreter at a time

HealthPartners adds more interpreters to serve the Twin Cities' growing Nepali-speaking community

Nepal is a country few recognize, Nepali – a language fewer speak. The world's attention has only recently turned to the country, which is located between China and India, since a massive earthquake devastated it last year and prompted an ongoing humanitarian crisis there.

To escape the country's stalled progress and in search of a better life, the number of people emigrating from Nepal to the United States is growing. The Midwest includes a large concentration of Nepali students attending various state or private universities. After graduation, those students often move to the Twin Cities to seek jobs and, as they become established in their careers, often help move their parents to Minnesota to join them. Further, the Twin Cities has a large population of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees.

Our Interpreter Services team recently expanded to serve this growing number Nepali-speaking Minnesotans. There are now four Nepali interpreters available to work with patients at the Center for International Health at our HealthPartners Midway Clinic, Regions Hospital and the HealthPartners Specialty Center in St. Paul. Many new immigrants go to the Center for International Health for their new arrival check-up and are often referred to the HealthPartners Specialty Center or Regions Hospital for additional care.

One of our HealthPartners colleagues, Prat, is one of the many Nepali students who came to the United States to pursue an undergraduate degree. She shared her personal story about the health care culture in Nepal compared to in the United Sates, and a reflection on why these interpreter services are so important.

My first trip to an Emergency Room in the United States

A few months before I was scheduled to leave Nepal, I woke up one morning feeling incredible pain in my stomach. I was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with appendicitis in a matter of hours. I was in and out of surgery within a few days.

Less than a year later, this time in the United States, the blinding pain came back. A ruptured appendix was the initial diagnosis from my physician here, too, and he was surprised to learn mine had already been removed. He decided I must have food poisoning and sent me home. However, the pain didn't go away, and on my second visit to the emergency room, I was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst.

Being able to express myself and discuss my medical history likely saved me time and money. Instead of going through procedures to look for a ruptured appendix, my physician began testing for other possibilities. Communication is critical when it comes to healthcare, but language is a struggle for many immigrants. In addition, cultural differences can also become a major barrier.

Reflecting on my situation, I wonder if I was wrongly diagnosed the first time, and if it had anything to do with the culture that I grew up in. I question that especially because, in Nepal, health issues that pertain only to women are so rarely discussed that they could seem nonexistent. Sexually transmitted diseases, women's health issues, and mental illness have so much stigma attached that they are considered too humiliating to discuss in public. As a result, these conditions are often left untreated and often missed during diagnosis.

Immigrants, especially older patients who already struggle with language, are likely to withhold such information that can sometimes be critical.

Breaking barriers, one interpreter at a time

Scheduling a trained, professional interpreter who not only speaks the language but also understands culture-based hesitations can help provide a comfortable setting for immigrants to be more honest about their health concerns. It ultimately improves safety and quality of care.

By adding more Nepali interpreters, HealthPartners is demonstrating its commitment to serving everyone in our community and making health care accessible. We are proud to offer a robust Interpreter Services program that includes staff who can interpret:

  • ASL (American Sign Language)
  • Cambodian
  • Hmong
  • Karen/Burmese
  • Lao
  • Nepali
  • Oromo/Amharic
  • Spanish
  • Somali
  • Thai
  • Vietnamese

To request a professional medical interpreter to attend a care visit or procedure with you or a loved one, please call the HealthPartners Appointment Center at 952-967-7676.

Interpreters are also available at our Park Nicollet locations. To request an interpreter at a specific facility, please call that location's general information line.

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