Psychosocial impacts for Oregon healthcare interpreters on the COVID-19 frontlines, a qualitative research study.
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In December of 2019, the first case of a concerning, novel coronavirus was detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The virus spread quickly around the globe, creating the COVID-19 pandemic and significantly disrupting healthcare systems. In the United States (US), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) implemented public health measures to contain the virus. Since little was known about the nature of the virus, healthcare professionals and first responders had to work longer hours in unsafe environments. Healthcare interpreters work directly with COVID-19 patients just as other healthcare workers do. Like other healthcare workers, they also work long hours, are subjected to chronic stress and are also vulnerable to vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Healthcare interpreters are essential workers in healthcare systems who provide interpretation services for persons with limited English proficiency. Although they are considered essential workers, studies show that they do not receive sufficient and equal support in navigating the unique barriers created by the pandemic (Perez and Hodáková 2021). This qualitative research study investigates the mental health and psychosocial trauma that healthcare interpreters endured during the pandemic in the US state of Oregon. This research also investigates important gaps in the healthcare system that can affect these workers. This study addressed the research question: What is the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the wellbeing of healthcare interpreters working in Oregon? We used semistructured interviews with healthcare interpreters to explore variables such as professional satisfaction, financial impact, psychological impact, changes in modality of interpretation, and systemic gaps. This study found that interpreters experienced significant socio-economic impacts, psychological impacts, and changes in their professional practice that added stress to their day-to-day life during the pandemic. Findings also highlight healthcare interpreters’ resilience and their capacity to adapt to new work environments.