VCU Health, located downtown Richmond, VA, employs more than 800 physicians in over 200 specialties and has the region’s only full-service children’s hospital and a level 1 trauma center, VCU Medical Center. In 2019 alone, they saw almost 850,000 outpatient visits. A big health system with a big mission, VCU Health has a forward-thinking approach focused on research and innovation. Their mission, “to preserve and restore health for all people of Virginia, through innovation in service, research, and education,” is reflected in their continued focus to overcome disparities and establish the best quality of life for all Virginians.
The arrival of a global pandemic brought with it rapid and sweeping change for healthcare. Essential personnel were whittled down to the bare minimum as the nation tried to gauge how quickly and efficiently COVID-19 spread. This left a gap in language access, as on site interpreters were suddenly no longer allowed to work within hospitals.
This change in available resources didn’t just impact limited English proficient (LEP) populations, but the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community as well. The Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing estimates that “…over 1,360,000 Virginians are likely to have hearing impairments, and over 168,000 are likely to be deaf or have ‘a lot of trouble hearing’” (“Assessment of the Needs of Virginians who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Late Deafened, and DeafBlind”). And for ASL, a visual language, there are less available substitutes. Over the phone (OPI) interpretation simply isn’t an option and certain VRI solutions are often found lacking.
VCU Medical Center needed to quickly and effectively pivot to a new resource for language access to continue providing accessible care to their community.
VCU has been partnered with Cloudbreak since 2014, utilizing Martti Video Remote Interpretation (VRI) to enhance their language services. VCU employs their own interpreters on site as well, and many of them have rapport with their patients. The Language Services team needed to bring new resources on board while preserving existing roles and relationships, balancing on-site resources with VRI options for a comprehensive language service offering.
Additionally, VCU took into account the unique considerations for ASL language needs. Medical Interpreter Supervisor Evan Lee-Ferrand spoke about the struggles to meet the needs of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community before partnering with Cloudbreak.
“A big part of our work has been re-establishing our relationship with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, who have been really reluctant to use VRI. It took me a while to appreciate how difficult it is to have a productive conversation in ASL when your video technology is shoddy, especially when that conversation is about your health.”
At the onset of COVID-19 health systems were struggling. They needed to keep their staff safe, save PPE, and ensure patients felt supported through contact with their providers, specialists, family and friends. Cloudbreak offered their healthcare partners access to Cloudbreak Telehealth, free of charge, to extend their current Martti infrastructure to meet these immediate needs.