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2003 Press Releases

Sign-language Interpreting Technology Benefits Maine Patients

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Gail Wilkerson, Chief of Communications
Spring Harbor Hospital
(207) 761-2292

Erin Rice, Marketing and Communications Director
Pine Tree Society
(207) 443-3341, ext. 117

PORTLAND, MAINE (February 4, 2003) — Spring Harbor Hospital, southern Maine's only freestanding psychiatric hospital, has become the first hospital in Maine to utilize Pine Tree Society's Video Relay Interpreting (VRI) service.

VRI is the first statewide, collaboratively designed and implemented solution for providing American Sign Language-interpreting services to hospital patients. The 24-hour-a-day service represents a unique solution for Maine, which has a dearth of qualified sign-language interpreters and a huge geographic service area.

Spring Harbor Hospital's Interpreter Services Director Kirk Little, LCSW, says the service is advantageous both to his hospital and its patients. "With VRI, patients receive interpreter services in a much more timely manner," he notes, "and the hospital benefits from having interpreters available 24 hours a day. It's technology that truly enhances patient care."

Pine Tree Society's VRI Project Director Doug Newton says, "The service overcomes the typical barriers of extensive travel by interpreters and ongoing training for hospital staff on deaf culture, the appropriate use of interpreting services, and how to effectively communicate with patients who use American Sign Language."

VRI was developed specifically for Maine hospitals, but the technology offers promise to other areas of the country where people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing encounter significant barriers to receiving quality healthcare. With a nationwide shortage of interpreters, many states share Maine's need.

"One major goal of the project is to diffuse knowledge and best practices to help the strategy spread beyond Maine," says Newton. "The VRI project is highly replicable due to the open-architecture and flexibility of the technology and the low cost of the equipment and transmission lines."

Essentially, VRI operates via high-speed videoconferencing technology. This allows the highly fluid movements associated with American Sign Language to be readily comprehended by deaf or hard-of-hearing patients who watch their interpreters via monitor at the hospitals where they are receiving care. A camera focused on the patient allows the interpreter to tell hospital staff about the patient's questions or wishes.

Pine Tree Society's VRI Coordinator Lois Morin noted in a memo to participating Maine VRI hospitals that Spring Harbor's first use of VRI "went well and the client was happy with the service. We hope that there will be more services (delivered) soon."

Currently, 12 Maine hospitals participate in the VRI project. Of those, 9 presently have installed the appropriate technology and offered the necessary training to provide the service.

The VRI project is made possible by the Technology Opportunities Program, National Communications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce with additional support from the Maine Health Access Foundation, The Bingham Program, and the Davis Family Foundation.

Founded in 1936, Pine Tree Society provides Maine children and adults with disabilities the opportunities and the means to create better lives for themselves and their families. Each year the Society's innovative programs serve thousands of people throughout the state. For more information, visit www.pinetreesociety.org.

Spring Harbor works in collaboration with Maine Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry to offer southern Maine's most comprehensive and clinically distinguished array of nonprofit mental health programs for people of all ages. Spring Harbor Hospital is an acute-care 95-bed psychiatric hospital that serves 2,600 Maine residents each year. The hospital is building a state-of-the-art new facility in Westbrook that is scheduled to open in March 2004. For more information, visit www.springharbor.org.

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