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Hispanic Heritage Month: East Tennessee woman, medical interpreter working to provide equitable healthcare

In 2019, Azaide Labrador-Jimenez became Cherokee Health's first certified medical interpreter.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Shortly after arriving in the United States, Azaide Labrador-Jimenez had a hard time receiving the healthcare she needed.

"When I came for the first time to the country, I had a tourist visa and I needed some medical services," Labrador-Jimenez recalled. "So many clinics just turned me down."

At the time, most clinics rejected Labrador-Jimenez as a patient because she was not yet a U.S. resident and did not have a social security number. Meanwhile, healthcare providers that did not turn her away wanted to charge her hundreds of dollars for basic services.

Her first visit to Cherokee Health came in March of 2018. There, Labrador-Jimenez was not only welcomed as a patient—she was offered a job.

"I started interpreting just for this very office in Alcoa," Labrador-Jimenez recalled.

In 2019, Labrador-Jimenez became Cherokee Health's first certified medical interpreter.

"I have always, always known that I love languages," Labrador-Jimenez explained. "I want to learn every language possible."

After helping Cherokee Health create an official interpretation department, Labrador-Jimenez now serves as the director of interpretation services.

As a Latina woman, she recognizes the challenges that often come with receiving health services.

"Here [at] Cherokee, 17% of our patients are Hispanic or declare themselves as Hispanic. We have realized that when quality interpretation is provided, they can receive better healthcare, and they can feel more comfortable talking about what they need," Labrador-Jimenez explained.

Her interpretation degree, Venezuelan background and love of languages help her provide more equitable healthcare to those who need it in East Tennessee.

"It's an honor because it means that Cherokee [Health] is actually taking into consideration the needs of the Hispanic population," Labrador-Jimenez said. "It's very rewarding when a patient says, 'Thank you, interpreter. God bless you.' That is just the cherry on top."

Centro Hispano de East Tennessee recently recognized Labrador-Jimenez by presenting her with the Latinidad Award. According to Centro Hispano, the award is presented to a "Latino or Latina who has been a catalyst for meaningful change in the Latino community. This person has helped the community to use its voice by promoting empowerment and engagement."

WBIR is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the contributions of people with roots in Spain, Central America, South America and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean.

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