How to Overcome Language Barriers in an Emergency

When English is not the only language spoken, planning for an emergency takes on a whole new level.

Healthcare facilities are aware that preparation and training for emergencies are essential when it comes to protecting their clients, employees and complying with federal, state and local laws and regulations. What impact is there on clients if the workforce has difficulty understanding your facilities’ emergency policies and procedures, due to Limited English Proficiency (LEP)?
In a recent article published in the Arizona Republic titled “Immigrant workers touch all of our lives,” Columnist Linda Valdez, writes about the impact that limiting an immigrant workforce would have on the healthcare industry. Nationally, immigrants make up 24 percent of direct caregivers which help the elderly and disabled to continue to live in their homes. Valdez writes, “They also deliver care in long-term facilities, like nursing homes.” She further states that the immigrant population “provides tremendous resources in terms of quality people who are committed to doing a quality job.”
Employing populations with LEP in health requires healthcare emergency managers to consider that LEP Employees may not:

Understand the nature of the emergency event and the risks associated

  • Are all employees included in discussions on risks related to the facility?
  • Are support staff involved in the emergency preparedness planning stages?
  • Do all employees understand their roles and responsibilities in responding to an identified risk?

Know facility emergency procedures/training

  • Does facility training include emergency procedures in multiple languages?
  • Are emergency procedures posted in various languages?
  • Does the facility utilize posters including pictures or graphics to show what actions are to be taken during an emergency event?
  • Are employees made aware during employee orientation what emergency preparedness means, and what steps they may be expected to take during specific types of events?

Understand directions or actions taken during an emergency event

  • Do employees know their role and is it being communicated in their native language?
  • Are they able to communicate effectively with supervisors, peers or emergency personnel?
  • How might they respond to the presence of those they consider an authority (Some may perceive responding firefighters with badges as police officers and be unwilling to provide information)
  • Do they know what to do if senior leadership is not available to take charge?
  • How to obtain help if they are injured themselves?

Know when and how to report an incident

  • What is the perception of a limited English proficient employee to the scene?
  • Do they know whom to contact and what to say on the phone?
  • What reasonable measures should the healthcare facilities put in place to protect the employee?
Health care providers must consider these challenges during the risk assessment and planning stages. Policies and procedures need to consider the differences in language, culture and mores, and customs of their employee community. By including all facility staff in emergency planning and training, emergency managers may be able to overcome language barriers for a successful response to an emergency event.
Categories: Healthcare
Topics: Preparedness

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