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Making sure that health care is not lost in translation

Monash Health presents an integrity award to its team of Greek interpreters

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Monash Health CEO, Andrew Stripp, presents the ICARE Award to the Clayton hospital team of Greek interpreters: Theodotra Lakoumentas, Dimitri Matheas, and Anthony Paschos.

23 December 2016

With Greeks in Australia dating back to the late 19th century - and with the new wave of migrants being very fluent English speakers - one would argue about the need for Greek interpreters in Melbourne today. Yet, one visit to the hospitals of the city would be enough to demonstrate the significance of interpreters when it comes to people getting the health care that they need. Particularly at the Monash Health hospitals (in Clayton, Moorabin, Dandenong, Casey, Cranbourne, and Kingston), dozens of Greek Australians flock to the clinics for their health management. In the majority are people of a certain age who arrived in Australia during the mass migration of the '50s and '60s.

They are not confident that their basic grasp of English is adequate to get them through an appointment with a clinician, let alone a meeting about critical health conditions. Hence the significance of the Greek interpreter team, which was selected for the Monash Health Quarterly's iCare Award.

Serving as a recognition of hospital employees' commitment to the Monash Health iCare values of integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, and excellence, the award is part of a recognition program that further encourages the staff to pursue excellence. The Greek interpreter team is an integral part of Monash Health's Language Services, available to the thousands of patients, originating from 180 countries, cared for by the 1400 staff of Monash Health.

"What we do with our work is to point out that the language and culture of non-English speakers should not be an obstacle to their daily lives, but, on the contrary, should be considered an asset", said Anthony Paschos, core member of the Greek interpreters team, and an active member in the Greek community. "In our day, the culture of profit has been prevailing, but such honorary distinctions cannot be assessed with dollars and cents. It's a matter of ethics and honourable service, which cannot be bought or sold". Along with Dimitri Matheas and Theodora Lakoumenta, Mr Paschos was presented the award by Monash Health CEO, Andrew Stripp. "I would like to personally thank you for your contribution to Monash Health", he stated in his written address. "It is the effort of you and your colleagues that make us a great health service".

For his part, interpreter and journalist Dimitris Matheas wanted to "share this honour with the Greeks who come to the hospital to be treated", as well as with the broader Greek community.

"It is a double honour, to be able to assist first-generation Greeks - the pioneers and veterans of hard labour - who are now facing various health issues. Our team works in a harmonious and professional team environment, and we cannot stress enough the importance of the support we receive from the director of the Language Services, Mili Plesic", he added.

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There are a couple of different aspects to this story. First, yes we need far more trained interpreters but NOT just for new migrants from Hellas. We also need them for the growing number of elderly Hellenic Australians in aged or residential care who either speak a poor English or who, due to some Alzheimers, have reverted to their native born Greek. Yet the politicians and the bureaucrats refuse to listen and provide scholarships only for training interpreters for the newer communities, generally African. That is NOT good enough and I do wish that the so called Hellenic Australian MPs of what ever party cared a lot more. Then there is a different issue. Years ago, when I was VP of Dodoni, an association of Epirotes, and my friend Michael was President of the Rhodians, we tried to get health care information translated into Greek. But the morons who ran the particular govt department that we approached refused to allow us to do so because THEY could not be sure of any translations and as they were all A nglo Saxon Celts nothing would be done. That attitude really pissed us off

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