Cambridge Health Alliance
Cambridge Health Alliance Official Website
 

 

The Cambridge Health Alliance is an award-winning regional healthcare system with patients of all ages residing in Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston’s Metro-North region.  The system includes Somerville Hospital, Cambridge Hospital, Whidden Memorial Hospital in Everett, at least 20 smaller health clinics, the Cambridge Department of Public Health, and Network Health, a state-wide managed Medicaid insurance plan.  The Alliance combines public health, clinical care, academics and research, and offers a broad range of services from obstetrics to surgery to mental health.  The Cambridge Health Alliance has earned its excellent reputation for innovative healthcare and community contributions – the Alliance is frequently described as a model toward which other healthcare systems should aspire.  The Alliance has received numerous awards; most notably for our purposes, it has been recognized by the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems for its Cultural and Linguistic Competency.

           

The Alliance was formed in 1996 by the merger of the Somerville and Cambridge hospitals, and expanded to include Whidden Memorial Hospital in 2001.  Each of these hospitals was founded around the turn of the last century, with Somerville Hospital being the oldest, and thus they have long histories of serving their respective communities.  The creation of the Alliance saved Somerville Hospital from having to close due to lack of funding.

 

 

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Pieter Cohen, MD

Pieter Cohen, MD is a physician at the Central Street Health Center. He was born in the US and learned Portuguese while studying abroad in the jungles of Brazil before medical school. He gave us great insight into the experience and limitations of being bilingual but not bicultural when working with an immigrant population, and expressed his preference for working with interpreters in person as opposed to through telephone or video-conferencing methods. We were able to observe his interactions with Portuguese-speaking patients when we accompanied him and Maria Terra on a house-call to visit a Portuguese immigrant.

 

 
Multilingual Interpreting and Translation Services at the CHA

The patients of the CHA are extremely diverse; more than half the patients do not speak English as their primary language, and over thirty languages are used regularly within the Alliance.  In order to properly serve its multicultural population, the Alliance has implemented an overarching strategy of multiculturalism.  The CHA created the Immigrant Health Improvement Program in 1995 in order to address the needs of its immigrant patients.  The hiring policy of the Alliance gives preference to bilingual and bicultural applicants and once hired, employees have access to language classes and diversity training.  The Alliance provides professional interpreters and written translation services, and has a separate department for each.  Their more recently hired interpreters have undergone extensive training, and every interpreter has taken a challenging exam with both oral and written components.  The hospitals and most of the smaller clinics have full-time interpreters on staff in at least one of the most common languages of Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole, and each of the hospitals has a dispatcher who places the on-call and per-diem interpreters in necessary locations; interpreters are available on call in every language needed.  In addition, the Alliance has created an in-network phone interpreting service.  With this service, if an interpreter for a particular language is needed and no one is available at that location, an interpreter working at another CHA location can interpret through a speakerphone system set up in each exam room.  The Alliance is also experimenting with video-phone interpreting, and has conducted studies that suggest that speakerphone and video-phone interpreting may be effective tools for reducing costs and increasing the efficiency with which these services are provided.  Because it is such a large system, the CHA has been able to build a very organized and cohesive structure for delivering interpreting services.