By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Seward County Health Department Administrator Martha Brown recently met with her employees, and part of that meeting was a directive to workers to only speak English – to each other.
The directive sparked some concern amongst locals who felt the order was meant to hurt relationships between SCHD employees and the department’s customers.
County administrator April Warden said people need not be concerned, as much of the county’s population is Hispanic and other races. She said health department clients who do not speak English will continue to deal with employees in their native tongues.
“The health department director recently issued a directive to the employees that they needed to speak English except while interpreting for the clients or communicating with clients that only speak Spanish,” she said.
Warden said the directive was implemented for business safety and customer service reasons.
“Not all supervisors speak Spanish,” she said. “Not all employees speak Spanish. Not all customers speak Spanish. We asked that when they were not interpreting for the Spanish clientele that they please speak English.”
Warden said some reports had said that the health department was going so far as to not provide interpreters for its Spanish speaking clients. That claim, she said, is absolutely false.
“That was never stated,” she said. “That was just a false statement. That was never said.”
Because a substantial percentage of SCHD’s clients only speak Spanish, in order to serve such people, Seward County makes a point to hire bilingual personnel. Warden said people who speak other languages besides English and Spanish are hired as well.
“We don’t just have people that speak Spanish either,” she said. “There are other languages. People are not fluent in English, and they come in. We also subscribe to Certified Languages International, which is a phone service that provides interpreters for which an in-house person is not available to speak. We can still offer our services to them as well.”
Warden said all of this means the health department will continue to provide services just as it did before.
“The only directive was just asking them to speak English at other times when they weren’t interpreting for a nurse or helping a client so the other people in the office can understand them and what’s taking place,” she said.
Warden said employees fluent in both English and Spanish are a must at SCHD, and the county has that requirement stated in its job descriptions and the ads for help in newspapers.
“That is put in there that we are looking for a bilingual individual that can interpret for our Spanish clientele,” she said.