K-W Multicultural Centre gets funding to bring back medical interpreter services

The K-W Multicultural Centre has received $75,000 from Ontario Health West for the organization's medical interpreter program. The centre was forced to cancel the program on Jan. 8 due to a funding shortfall.

CEO Lucia Harrison says centre will continue to have dialogue with Ontario Health to secure more funding

A glass door with a logo.
An interpreter service for medical appointments is now up and running again after it temporarily paused in early January. The KW Multicultural Centre received additional funding from Ontario Health to continue the program until the end of March. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

After having to temporarily shut down an interpreter service for newcomers and refugees in need of medical appointments earlier this month, the K-W Multicultural Centre says that program is now back up and running again.

The centre says it received $75,000 from Ontario Health West to fund the program, which CEO Lucia Harrison said will be able to take them to the end of March. 

The centre is expected to receive $150,000 from Ontario Health in April to fund the program this upcoming fiscal year.

"I was ecstatic when I got the news," Harrison told CBC News.

The centre was forced to shut down the service on Jan. 8 after money for the program ran out with three months left in the fiscal year. Not having the additional funding would have impacted 2,000 appointments.

Local politicians like Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife wrote a letter to Ontario's health minister asking for help when she learned the news the program had been cut.

"The medical interpretation issue has been a longstanding issue and it seems that we continually have to fight for these basic levels of service," Fife said in an interview with CBC News.

Issue of funding not going away

The program provides medical interpretation over the phone, in-person or through video for immigrants and refugees who may not speak English.

The service not only supports the individuals using it, but the doctors and health-care system also benefit because it reduces readmission at the hospital and costs for unnecessary testing. 

But Harrison said the issue of funding is not going away. 

"We're still left with the dilemma that at the moment we only have $150,000 committed for next year and I know we will continue to run into issues again next year," she said.

Harrison said the centre will continue to work with Ontario Health and is hopeful they can secure more funding to meet demand.

"I recognize that coming out of COVID, that our health system was really financially stressed and I'm sure they're being pulled in many directions, but the fact that they did come through with the $75,000 says they do recognize the importance of this," she said.

"So we'll just keep having conversations with them."

In an email statement, Ontario's Ministry of Health said it recognizes the importance of the interpreter and translation services provided in the region and will continue to fund the program, but it did not say whether it would increase funding in the future. 

"Base funding of $150,000 from the Ministry of Health was secured for 2022-23. This funding is the same amount that has been allocated to the municipality for these services since 2020-21," the ministry said.

"This amount will flow to the Regional Municipality of Waterloo annually for the provision of interpreter and translation services."