Allentown and LVHN teamed up on translators for EMS

Thanks to the partnership with LVHN, EMS technicians in Allentown will no longer have to worry about the language barrier when trying to assist and transport patients.

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, other city officials and Lehigh Valley Health Network representatives met Tuesday morning at the Mack Southside Fire Station to highlight an ongoing joint pilot program that provides the Allentown Health Bureau and Allentown EMS with trained interpreters.

A $20,000 grant from LVHN’s Ann Constance and Carl Robert Anderson Health Care Trust provided the city with seven iPads, five for the city ambulance and two for the Allentown Health Bureau, all equipped with access to LVHN’s live medical interpretation service. The language service is currently free, but after the pilot period ends in October, a call with an LVHN interpreter will cost the city about 83 cents per minute.

Tuerk said about 48% of Allentown’s population speaks a language other than English. Vicki Kistler, the city’s economic development director and former director of the city’s health office, said this diversity of languages ​​in the city is why this program is so important.

“Can you imagine your child choking and you can’t explain to the first responder what they ate, that they ate a food they were allergic to, and now they can’t breathe?” Kistler said. “A situation very similar to that occurred once when the Allentown ED transported a woman who they thought was experiencing abdominal pain, but later found out that the woman was actually pregnant and experiencing complications from the pregnancy.”

LVHN’s trained medical interpreters speak a variety of verbal and non-verbal languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic and English Sign Language. The languages ​​most commonly spoken in Lehigh County and the city will have interpreters available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, although some, such as Russian, will only be guaranteed availability during limited time periods.

The pilot project began about a month ago, and since then the city’s ambulances have been equipped with iPads every time they go to a call. The translator’s services have been used at least 10 times in the past month, said Mehmet Barzev, chief of Allentown’s emergency medical services. He added that while there have been some challenges, particularly when dealing with older patients who are less tech-savvy, overall patient response has been positive.

Jumana De Santiago, LVHN Interpreter Services Manager, said she is confident this program will help reduce the trauma and anxiety associated with emergency care and provide better outcomes for thousands of patients and families in the Lehigh Valley.

De Santiago was the one who came up with this program and partnership. She said that on both sides, she’s had to help translate for someone in a medical situation — she’s personally done that for family members and seen the need for translators at LVHN hospitals.

De Santiago said that while the calls themselves are not recorded and are confidential, the city and LVHN are collecting usage data that will be used to improve this program and make decisions about it in the future.

Morning Call reporter Leif Grice can be reached at 610-679-4028 or

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