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  February 10, 2003

Interpreter Joins Health Center,
Expands Services For The Deaf
By Kristina Goodnough

Communicate and they will come.

Ask Leslie Warren, the Health Center's new full-time interpreter for the deaf. Her beeper went off just five minutes after she picked it up on her first day of work last month: a deaf patient at one of the clinics needed an interpreter. Off she went, and she's been hard at work ever since.

Image: Leslie Warren, right, signs for Patricia Verde (center) as Verde talks with a patient.
Leslie Warren, right, signs for Patricia Verde (center), manager of social work, as Verde talks with a patient.
Photos by Peter Morenus

"We wanted to formally introduce Leslie with an official opening of the Interpreter's Office on Feb. 1," says Patricia Verde, manager of the Social Work Department at John Dempsey Hospital, who is responsible for interpreting services at the Health Center. "We'd planned to send letters to our deaf patients letting them know she'd be available here after that date."

But word was already out among the state's deaf community that Warren, one of the nation's top interpreters for the deaf, had joined John Dempsey Hospital.

"Many of them know me and feel comfortable with me," says Warren, who comes to the Health Center from Family Services Woodfield in Bridgeport, where she helped develop and administer a statewide sign language interpreter referral system for the state's 32 acute care hospitals.

The initial impetus for the interpreter referral system came from a federal consent decree, signed in 1998, to settle a class action lawsuit against 10 hospitals in the state, including Dempsey, for not providing interpreters for deaf patients.

"We are the first and only hospital in the state to open our own interpreter's office," says Verde. "It's a real coup for us to get Leslie, who is so familiar with the issues and is well known to the deaf community. It will help us continue to improve the services we provide to deaf patients, and it will also increase the number of deaf patients who come here for care."

That number is already growing. In 1999, 236 deaf patients had 449 appointments at John Dempsey Hospital that required interpreters. In 2002, 468 deaf patients made 1,054 appointments requiring interpreters.

"This is already a popular hospital for deaf persons," says Warren. "It's on a busline. It's also visually attractive, and deaf persons are often visual people."

The number of appointments made by deaf patients at Dempsey Hospital last year was more than twice the number of appointments made by deaf patients at any other hospital in the state. Hartford Hospital was second, with 491 appointments with interpreters; and Yale-New Haven was third, with 338.

Verde thinks interpreting services are critical in patients' choice of service provider. "Think about needing health care in a foreign country, where you can't speak the language," she says. "You'd worry about whether you could understand the doctors, and whether you'd be able to talk about the treatment plan and discuss options. Then imagine that you found a hospital where they spoke your language. You'd certainly be likely to go there. I think that's what it's like for deaf patients."

Together, Warren and Verde plan to streamline and centralize their services to the deaf. "When we ask for an interpreter from Family Services Woodfield, we are required to pay for a minimum of two hours each time an interpreter comes, even if the patient's visit lasts only 15 minutes," says Verde. "If the patient cancels at the last minute, we still have to pay for the interpreter who was scheduled."

With Warren on staff full time, the hospital can be more flexible and cost-efficient, she adds. The hospital will continue to obtain interpreters from the Bridgeport agency for weekends, after hours and emergencies.

"I am very happy to be here," says Warren. "For a hospital to have its own full time interpreter for the deaf fulfils the dream of the consent decree."

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