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Multilingual grandfather becomes hospital interpreter during pandemic

Posted at 5:24 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 20:47:27-04

CINCINNATI — College Hill grandfather Mike Funez has found himself on the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis — not as a doctor or a nurse, but as a hospital interpreter for patients with limited English fluency.

“I don’t consider myself a hero," he said Thursday. "I just consider myself an advocate."

The people Funez helps face a new level of isolation and uncertainty during a pandemic that already doles out significant helpings of both. Without the ability to understand or communicate with the health care workers treating them, they can easily become scared and overwhelmed.

EN ESPANOL: Abuelo se convierte en traductor en hospital durante la pandemia

“When someone like me comes in and advocates for you, they feel a lot more comfortable because they know, well, at least there’s someone here that could understand my feelings and could help tell the doctors how I feel, what I need and my anxieties,” said Funez.

He started interpreting at local hospitals last week after Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio called him to ask for help. A patient was in labor, and she tested positive for COVID-19.

“It touched my heart because of his willingness of going back and continuing the case for multiple hours just to make sure the patient had the care she needed,” said Litz Main, the language services director for Catholic Charities.

Main said that refugees in Cincinnati often become interpreters helping locals in times of need.

“People always look at the perspective that we are helping the immigrant communicate," she said. "No, we are also helping the providers, the English speakers. They are putting themselves at risk.”

Funez was born in Belize. His parents migrated to the United States with him when he was a baby. He knows English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and some Italian.

He lives in College Hill with his wife and has a four-year-old granddaughter, Lily. He said he does not take the hospital work lightly.

“It’s exciting but then scary at the same time,” said Funez.

He's been staying isolated from much of his family during the pandemic, but he wants to be there for people who need help advocating for themselves in hospitals.

"Don’t feel afraid to ask for an interpreter because that’s one of your rights,” said Funez.