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Patient Stories

#WeTheImmigrants: Language Barriers in the American Health Care System

Welcome to the second episode of #WeTheImmigrants!

We The Immigrants is a video series where immigrants share their experiences with health care in the US. We’ve gathered videos from immigrants across New York to discuss their stories about affordability, accessibility, and more. Watch Amy’s story below!

Amy shares her grandmother’s experience receiving health care as an immigrant from Taiwan.

Although she had insurance, Amy’s grandmother struggled to receive adequate care. She developed severe anxiety attacks in her 60s and then Alzheimer’s in her 70s, both of which were difficult to communicate to doctors.

As an immigrant from Taiwan, she spoke mainly Mandarin Chinese, meaning that she struggled to express how she felt to English-speaking doctors. She was unable to find therapists who spoke her language, and insurance did not cover therapy. Eventually, she had to return home to Taiwan, which offered dual citizenship as well as universal health care. There, she was able to access the mental health services that she needed.

When she began to develop dementia, the language barrier once again became an issue. Questionnaires were written only in English, and so she was not diagnosed until she had already reached the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s.

Once she was diagnosed, it was challenging to find doctors or caretakers who spoke Chinese. Her condition required her to receive help at home, which was not covered by insurance. After finding help on their own, her family also had to pay out of pocket. As Amy recalls, “It’s been an immense emotional and financial burden for my parents to figure out all on their own.”

Looking to the future, she hopes for a more inclusive health care system. She asks for better mental health coverage as well as more language options for patients so that no one else will go through what her grandma did.

Amy leaves us with strong message: “We need universal health care, and we need it now.”

Watch her full story below: