2013-10-17 / Local & State

School Teaching Spanish To Hospital Workers

By David Bruce


ERIE, Pa. (AP) – Carolyn Scott isn't listening to music these days when she drives to and from work at Saint Vincent Hospital.

She's practicing her Spanish.

“I have an audio CD in my car,” said Scott, a secretary in the hospital's mother and baby unit. “I'm listening all the time.”

Scott, 63, is one of 15 Saint Vincent nurses and unit secretaries taking Spanish classes as part of a pilot program with Penn State Behrend. The classes are designed to help them better communicate with Spanish-speaking patients.

The employees won't take the place of a Spanish-speaking interpreter, who works full time at Saint Vincent and is brought in to translate diagnoses, and information about procedures and surgeries. Instead, these employees would be better able to greet patients when they arrive on the unit.

“We're often the first person these patients meet,” said Scott, who splits her time among the labor and delivery, postpartum, nursery and neonatal intensive care units. “I feel bad when someone comes in who doesn't speak English and I can't greet them properly.”

The idea for the classes came after Soledad Traverso, a professor of Spanish at Behrend, was a patient at Saint Vincent in 2012.

Fellow faculty member Laurie Urraro came to visit her, and the two women began talking in Spanish when a nurse overheard them.

“ The nurse said she wished she could speak Spanish because they get patients, often during the night when there aren't any interpreters or family members who speak Spanish,” Traverso said.

An interpreter is available by phone 24 hours a day, but it's not the same as having a nurse or unit secretary there to help them get acclimated during their first few hours in the hospital, Scott said.

“Simple things like asking for their name, if they have insurance, what is their doctor's name,” Scott said.

Traverso and Urraro agreed that teaching nurses and staff some conversational Spanish would be a great idea. They applied for a Penn State grant to cover the costs of a Spanish class at Saint Vincent.

The grant was approved, and the class started in early September. All 15 openings filled quickly, even though employees received no pay to attend the twohour, biweekly evening classes.

“We're excited about this opportunity to better meet our patients' needs,” said Debbie Tamilin, Saint Vincent's vice president of patient care services. “It's a purely voluntary class, but there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm about it.”

Scott said that's due primarily to Traverso and Urraro.

“Our two professors are so good and so vibrant,” Scott said. “Even though many of us work for eight hours, then come to class for two more hours, it goes by quickly.”

The classes focus of words and phrases the nurses and unit secretaries might need for their job. They spend at least part of each class working in pairs, talking to each other in Spanish.

Each class has a different subject. Last week's class dealt with numbers, Traverso said.

“They learned how to say, `I need to take your blood pressure' and `How much do you weigh?”' Traverso said. “Everything related to numbers.”

Outside class, Scott and other students listen to audio CDs the professors make for them and study from a specialized reader they created.

The classes will run into December. There are no plans yet for another course, though both Traverso and Tamilin have said they would like to see it happen.

“We could teach a new group of nurses and unit secretaries, or help this group speak more Spanish,” Traverso said.

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