South Valley group aims to employ New Mexicans through growing industry

Kristin Suchowiecki
In this Friday, May 1, 2015 photo, physician assistant Kristin Suchowiecki administers a nebulizer treatment on patient Jaylin Colon, 9, at Albany Med EmUrgentCare on Friday, May 1, 2015, in Coxsackie, N.Y. New York is using $8 billion in projected federal savings to overhaul its Medicaid program with more outpatient clinics, fewer hospital beds and primary care where low-income patients can see doctors and psychologists in the same visit. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new organization in the South Valley is working to help New Mexicans find jobs while, at the same time, improving communication in healthcare. Leaders say it all starts with one growing industry.

Herman Torres welcomed guests to the South Valley Economic Development Center to mark the start of his new career.

“I’m graduating!” he said.

Now, Torres has the training to be a medical interpreter.

“I’m giving a voice to the people who don’t have it, due to their language barrier,” said Torres.

“An interpreter is someone who facilitates understanding and communication between people who speak different languages,” explained Cecilia Portal, Director of Valley Community Interpreters.

Portal says Torres is one of 16 graduating from their first class. She says the idea to train medical interpreters came from her own experience. Portal is also a telephonic, medical interpreter, handling cases all across the country from her desk in Albuquerque.

As for the need in Albuquerque, Portal said, “Enormous. An enormous need in the country.”

She added, “I always get the urgent phone call: ‘We have a high volume of phone calls, can you log in? Can you help us?'”

Portal says poor communication between healthcare providers and patients can lead to high readmission rates.

“On the higher risk end, you have patients taking the wrong medication and the wrong dosages because the don’t understand,” said Portal. “I think for all of us who speak English, the healthcare system is daunting enough. Now, imagine that when you don’t have the language.”

What’s more, Portal says the interpreter industry is young and there’s not enough resources to meet the demand, especially when you consider an influx of patients due to the Affordable Care Act.

“About four million folks who don’t speak English well have entered the healthcare system,” Portal explained.

With the demand for Spanish interpreters and a need for jobs in this border state, Portal had only one question: “Why hasn’t anybody put these two things together and build a strong, well-trained workforce that will be attractive for the industry to come to the state?”

She hopes Valley Community Interpreters will do just that. Not only do they train healthcare professionals to interpret, but they also, “identify, assess and train bilingual community members to enter the profession,” said Portal. “The ultimate dream is that we will have our own call center with the trainees in the community, like a co-op,” said Portal.

Yet, for now, Portal hopes to make a dent one small business at a time.

“Hopefully, this month, we can have everything done and start my business,” said Torres.

Portal says most companies contract telephonic, medical interpreters for cases all over the United States. That means, once Torres has his license, he can work from home.

“I feel better being my own boss and having my own business, so whatever I do is going to be my responsibility. So I’m excited,” Torres said. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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