To speak to South King County, it helps to know 9 languages


Annie Safar and Annya Pintak stand at Global to Local’s Connection Desk, which puts South King County residents in touch with community resources.

You may have heard how ethnic diversity has blossomed in South King County. The number of residents who self-identified as Asian, African-American, Hispanic, Native American or belonging to two or more races went up by an astonishing 66 percent in the 2010 census.

This includes many immigrants and others who have never had health insurance — individuals for whom words such as “deductible” or “copay” are not only foreign, but have no equivalent in their native language.

Global to Local is one community partner working to communicate the new health law to this population.

Opening the door for a diverse population

Volunteers and staffers at the SeaTac non-profit help Somali, Latino, Eritrean, Ethiopian and Burmese residents apply for coverage using Washington Healthplanfinder.

They offer daily assistance through the “Connection Desk” (Monday through Friday; 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.), where clients seek advice both about the health exchange and other community resources that promote health. At the Connection Desk, clients are paired with a community health worker who speaks their language. Annya Pintak, program manager for the Connection Desk and ACA Enrollment at Global to Local, oversees a team of 16 University of Washington and Seattle University students who are trained as In-Person Assisters.

Beyond bilingual: Nine languages and counting

“We have a lot of language speakers,” said Pintak. “We cover Somali, Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, Akan, which is a language in Ghana, Suzhou, Nepalese, Spanish, and we have French, too…and Amharic, which is an Ethiopian language.”

Even with this talented, multilingual roster, language barriers remain. Pintak’s team lacks an Arabic speaker, forcing one resourceful IPA to use Google Translate to help a client sign up for insurance. And the young staff must get creative when explaining the nuances of health plans to a population unfamiliar with the terminology (they frequently compare it to car insurance).

Technology also can be a barrier, when the enrollment system is an entirely online shopping experience.

“A lot of folks in the community don’t have access to a computer or are not knowledgeable about internet access,” said Pintak.

To help people navigate, Global to Local has hosted nearly 40 open enrollment events that typically attract 35 to 50 attendees each. The organization will  host these events throughout the spring. But their work continues even after a client is successfully enrolled in an insurance plan.

“We have a lot of clients coming back in three, five, six times, whether it’s explaining what their options are or whether they get a piece of mail that they don’t understand, we get a lot of follow-ups,” said Pintak.

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