Voices for Advancement Until Language Transformation is pioneering a novel, community-led approach to improve healthcare access and address systemic language barriers for refugee and migrant patients. Currently housed within the Refugee Community Partnership in North Carolina, VAULT collaborates with patients to document their language access experiences, provide assistance in filing Title VI violations, and assigns a dedicated “Language Navigator” to assist them in English-dominant environments.
The disuse of quality language services by most health care providers endangers refugee and migrant patient safety, producing pervasive misdiagnoses and an inability to understand treatment protocol. Voices for Advancement Until Language Transformation (VAULT) is a game-changing solution for advancing access and equity for refugee and migrant patients, harnessing the power of firsthand experiences to drive change in the healthcare system, ensuring that all patients have meaningful access to care.
Everything changed when my son was born. The health disparities faced by Black women and immigrants, which I had previously read about, suddenly became my reality. I experienced firsthand how my questions and concerns were repeatedly dismissed, and I almost lost my life in the process. I had to prove myself to receive care, constantly validating my educational background and credentials. This experience shattered my trust in the healthcare system and became the driving force behind my commitment to language transformation.
The biggest challenges we face right now are aligning the political will and financial incentives to create meaningful change in language access. Communities are desperate for change, and health care providers are sensitive to the need for effective language services. Unfortunately, a lack of information on how language services impact patient health means that these services are inconsistently covered by insurance and Medicaid, and without clear data many administrators prefer to maintain the status quo.
My father has played a critical role in informing my worldview and my work. In the Congo, my father was the chief of medicine for our province. Unlike the U.S. healthcare system, which has developed infrastructure, physicians in the Congo had to be innovative due to the lack of an established system or infrastructure. I learned this social innovation firsthand from my father.
Earlier this year, a Syrian patient who speaks Arabic was contacted by UNC Hospital staff in English to inform him that he needed to be scheduled for a surgery. He asked for interpretation, and was denied. He was upset and scared. With the support of VAULT, he filed a formal grievance with Patient Relations. The department called him with an Arabic interpreter to find out more details and investigate the situation. They then sent a letter, in Arabic, apologizing that he had been denied an interpreter, acknowledging that it is his right, and informing him that they would be re-training that department within the hospital.
He called us and said “I was not expecting such a response, let alone a quick one. Thank you for helping me claim my rights and for standing with me.” His wife added, “I wasn’t expecting to hear from them. The response gave me a sense of self worth and that I matter, that my words count and mean something. Change can happen and it has only made me more excited [about] language justice to help effect that change.”
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