Push for medical cards gains support
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Yuk Pang Law's aspiration of putting bilingual medical emergency cards in the wallets and on the refrigerators of every non-English-speaking immigrant in Hawai'i is getting some hefty support.
Last week, the nonprofit Catholic Charities Hawai'i accepted a $10,000 grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation to take the lead in producing the pocket-sized cards. And the state Department of Health has agreed to print at least a major portion of the cards at its in-house print shop.
Not bad for a project that Law, who owns Hawaii Immigrant Services, started with a couple thousand dollars of her own hoping to save the lives of elderly and poor Chinese immigrants.
"I really think it helps people who don't speak English," Law said. "And even if you are English-speaking, you can't talk when you're sick or you pass out."
Over the past decade or so, Law has distributed about 2,000 cards to non-English-speaking Chinese immigrants. Each card contains vital information about its carrier, including names and telephone numbers of primary physicians and emergency contact people, blood type, health insurance, medical conditions and medications.
Sister Earnest Chung, social policy director for Catholic Charities, maintains that the need for the card is great. She points to U.S. Census Bureau data from 1990 showing 26.6 percent of Hawai'i residents 5 years and older identifying themselves as speaking a second language, half of whom believed they speak English "less than very well."
"I'm hoping ... we can put it on the Web and people can download it and use it for their communities," Chung said.
She has identified at least 14 languages that she wants represented on the translation cards: Tagalog, Ilocano, Korean, Japanese, Samoan, Tongan, Chuukese, Marshallese, Hawaiian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Chinese, Cebuano and Thai. She plans to begin by making 800 cards in each of the languages.
The grant money may cover costs tied to translator services and typesetting, Chung said, noting that Catholic Charities hopes to get at least some translation done by volunteers.
Law and Chung contend that to ensure translations are properly done, cards should be translated into the respective foreign languages by one source, and then translated back into English by another. That might require additional time and expense, Law said, but will ensure there are no embarrassing, or possibly critical, mistakes.
Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said at least a major portion of the cards may be printed "very inexpensively" at the department's print shop.
"DOH sees this as a project that can definitely improve language access, and we will do what we can to move this forward," Okubo said.
Dr. Jonas Navickas, an osteopathic physician who works part time at the Kokua Kalihi Valley Health Clinic, estimates that nearly half of his patients are hampered by some degree of a language barrier.
A readily available list of allergies, ailments and medications would help save critical time and money in diagnosing a patient, he said. The situation for someone showing up in a hospital emergency room with a medical emergency card, as opposed to that for someone who came without one, "would be like day and night."
Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, D-13th (Kalihi, Nu'uanu), chairwoman of the Senate Human Services Committee, said the push for the cards shows the need for more funding for interpretive services to help immigrant communities. "It's ironic because we are a state of immigrants," Chun Oakland said.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.