Holly Ozgun wanted a volunteering experience that would help her practice Spanish and connect with the local Latino community. That's when she found Carolina Conexiones, a program that provides bilingual interpreters to Spanish-speaking patients and families at UNC Children's Hospital. What she found in the program was so much more than just a way to practice Spanish – she found a program that let her build strong connections with families and give them support when they needed it most. During her time as a Conexiones, Holly and other volunteers were able to provide crucial language assistance and significantly lower the no-show rate for Spanish-speaking families. Carolina For the Kids saw the enormous impact of this program and decided to help fund Carolina Conexiones from 2016-2017.
CFTK was able to interview Holly, a previous volunteer and co-director, about her experience in Carolina Conexiones.
What were your responsibilities as a Carolina Conexiones?
Our main focus was helping families in the pediatric specialty clinic. We meet families when they first arrive to the hospital and go with them through registration, making sure that they find all the liability forms, appointment time, information, check-in – stuff like that. After that, we will go into the waiting room, talk to the families about their upcoming appointment, if they need to request a medical interrupter, talk about their experience with the hospital, if they need help getting to other appointments, questions, parking, etc. This process helps us troubleshoot what each family needs.
We also go back to the triage with the nurse and interpret for the families there. We interpret everything: height, weight, immunizations, medicines; we basically focus on helping with everything outside of the actual doctor's room. We can also help out after the exam with checkout, scheduling, and getting to anywhere else in the hospital.
At the time, we were entirely volunteer run, and I was one of the co-directors. We had an executive board that was made up of current volunteers who did planning, running orientation and helping new volunteers that need to be trained.
Did you see positive effects of working with the Conexiones? What was Conexiones impact in the hospital?
A lot of the time, you would see an immediate positive impact on the families. When I talked to a family after they left the hospital, they would always say "thank you so much, you have helped me feel so comfortable and helped me solve an issue." You can see how situations would have been much more difficult without a navigator. When I accompanied families to the E.R., you could tell that going to the emergency room would already be a difficult process but adding a language barrier to that situation makes it even more challenging without language assistance.
Our organization did a lot of data recording and data analysis, and one piece of data that stuck out to me was how we changed the no-show rate. The no-show rate is what percentage of patients don’t show up to their appointments. This can be a big deal in the specialty clinic because it can take a long time to schedule a specialty appointment and there is a long waiting period [to make an appointment]. Spanish speaking patients had a higher no show rate than English speakers at the hospital, but, since we started the program, we were able to bring down no show rates to the same level as English speakers. Part of how we accomplished that was to make appointment reminder phone calls to the families, asking if they needed to change or reschedule their appointment.
What was your favorite part of working with Carolina Conexiones?
My favorite thing has been, since I've been volunteering for 2 full years and because of the way the specialist clinic is, when there are families I start to recognize and can build a rapport with. They recognize me and I recognize them, and they know that I am there to help. I like being able to build connections with families and being able to have a bond with the local Latino community.
Carolina For the Kids helps to fund critical program areas in the hospital that provide emotional, medical and financial support for patients and families in UNC Children's Hospital. If you would like to help support our work, visit www.carolinaftk.org/donate.