That means the barriers to health care for patients who speak minimal English have become even higher.

COURTESY PHOTO: BRADLEY W. PARKS/OPB - A sign outside the Linguava offices in Portland. Linguava is a company that provides medical interpretation services. Medical interpreters are vital to ensuring equal access to health care, but many have seen work dry up during the COVID-19 pandemic since stay-home orders went into effect.Amanda Wheeler-Kay has been a Spanish-English freelance interpreter in the Portland metro area for 15 years. Like most freelancers, she said it's not unusual for her schedule to look mostly blank a week or two out. But last month was different.

"By mid-March, I had a bunch of appointments that canceled," Wheeler-Kay said. "I'm now getting between five to 10 appointments a week as opposed to six a day."

She and other interpreters, who have been classified as non-essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, say the crisis has decimated their industry. Work that interpreters could usually count on from hospitals, schools and conferences has dried up, leaving them worried about their future — and the health of people who have the hardest time accessing American medical care.

Normally, most of Wheeler-Kay's interpreting work takes her to local medical centers and it's done face-to-face. But that stopped after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown ordered all non-emergency procedures, like elective surgeries and routine check-ups, to cease last month.

And that means the barriers to health care for patients who speak minimal English have become even higher.

"We know how hard it is for information to get out there," Wheeler-Kay said. "This whole crisis is making [it] so clear how social determinants really do have a significant impact on people's lives."

Interpreters play a vital role in the health care system, but many have been laid off entirely from their jobs.

This OPB story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.


You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!


- Tualatin cancels Blender Dash, mayor's state-of-the-city address

- Hillsboro Community Foundation issues $175,000 in COVID-19 funds

- Canby care facility has three Covid-19 diagnoses

- Senior year in the COVID-19 era

- Bonus Index: Unemployment by the numbers

- Capital Chatter: Hansell is recovering

- Vacant local stadiums illuminated Friday nights for seniors

- Crime tendencies fluctuate amid COVID-19

- Heroes receive loud support

- Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts shapeshifts due to COVID-19