After years of using volunteer interpreters from a Columbia-based immigrant-aid agency, the Howard County Health Department is hiring Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese translators from that group to work with clients at prenatal clinics.
The Health Department and Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network, the group for immigrants, were among three applicants that received $10,000 grants in July from the National Association of County Health Officials in Washington, D.C.
The grants, also awarded to a joint applicant in California and Hawaii, were given to local health officials and community organizations working to improve access to health care for Asians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics.
Howard County's proposal involved both Asians and Hispanics, said Annette Ferebee, project manager for the National Association of County Health Officials, adding that the Howard County recipients "have a very focused project."
Under the one-year grant, interpreters from FIRN are paid to help non-English speakers during Tuesday morning prenatal clinics at the Columbia Health Center.
They also accompany nurses on home visits to non-English speaking patients. Videos and materials on prenatal services will be translated into Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese.
The one-time grant will leave Howard County health officials with fTC materials they can use beyond the life of the grant, said Carmen Vaessen, outreach bilingual coordinator at FIRN.
"There will be a skeleton in place," said Ms. Vaessen.
Although the Health Department has received help from FIRN volunteers and has nurses learning Spanish, there are not enough interpreters to go around, officials said.
"Each month, we see an increasing number of Spanish-speakers who speak no English or have no relatives who speak English," said Victoria Duke, nursing supervisor and head of the Maternity Program at the Columbia Health Center.
Adriane Weaver, a community health nurse who is taking a Spanish course at Howard Community College, said the grant is desperately needed.
"I noticed how difficult it is when you're from someplace else and you can't communicate," Ms. Weaver said. "Working in public health you run across people from everywhere."
Last year, more than 30 Spanish-speaking patients and about 20 Korean and Vietnamese women received prenatal services at the county Health Department, Ms. Vaessen said.
In addition to providing volunteer translators for county health clinics, FIRN offers Asian and Hispanic immigrants information and referral on housing, transportation, day care, employment, interpreters and tutors.
Last year, the office helped 355 Mexican immigrants, more than 100 Salvadorans, 166 Vietnamese and 150 Koreans.
Now, some of those interpreters will be paid.
"This was like a nice ending to it all," said Ms. Vaessen, who also works as a translator. "Our interpreters finally got some remuneration."