Thrive by IU Health

February 05, 2019

Interpreter, Translator, Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

IU Health University Hospital

Interpreter, Translator, Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

Rafael Mendez sees his job as providing all patients and families with equal opportunities to quality healthcare. He does that by listening, teaching, and making communication accessible to all.

There’s a story about a patient who had diabetes. She had been working diligently to follow the guidelines of her dietitian. And yet, her condition wasn’t improving. She explained repeatedly that she had stayed within recommendations – cutting her starch intake. She had cut back to three tortillas a day – which should have reduced her carbohydrates significantly.

The dietitian was stumped. The patient was stumped.

Rafael Mendez was there to help with interpretation. As he heard the patient speak he recognized her accent. She wasn’t from Mexico; she was from Central America.

“The tortillas in Central America are a whole lot bigger than the tortillas in Mexico. They were both talking about tortillas but they were talking about two different tortillas,” said Mendez. The revelation was all in a day’s work for Mendez, who has worked at IU Health since 2012. He started his career in medical interpretation working in California. In 1999 he moved to Indiana and worked for a time with the Hispanic Center helping families secure special assistance with utilities and housing. He also helped formalize a program that connected Spanish-speaking residents with language services and employment. He continued his work with the Indianapolis Public Library, designing and implementing programming and services for the growing immigrant population. At IU Health, Mendez is one of several interpreters/translators working with patients, families, and caregivers at Riley, Methodist and University Hospitals. He also works at the outlying clinics.

His days range from speaking with a mother in labor and delivery, to parents of a child in the cancer unit.

“There’s a lot of parent care/education, end-of-life and doctor updates that we are called for,” said Mendez. “We also do a lot of mental and behavioral health working with chaplains, and social workers. We even work with human resources sometimes when they are hiring staff.

“We don’t have chaplains, nutritionist or social workers that speak Spanish so to offer equal access to patients is so important. For me it is very motivating. When a chaplain goes into an English-speaking room, the service is so much more in depth, so meaningful. I feel like I can help create that feeling for Spanish-speaking patients.”

As he talks to Nallely Lopez Rivas, the mother of patient Brittany Midence Lopez, Mendez is animated and consoling. He wants to be sure she understands not only conditions but also pending treatments. He wants to give her assurance.

“It’s so important that we break down language barriers and make sure they know we are here for them,” said Mendez. “I think the thing I like best about my job is that

I can see results of what I do right away. There’s a sense of accomplishment that you are part of a team that is trying to give the best outcomes to patients and families.”

More about Mendez:

  • He is from El Salvador. His father died when he was young and his mother made her way to the United States seeking better opportunities for her family. She left Mendez and his two siblings with family and returned for them six years later. The family moved to Oakland, Calif. where Mendez attended Oakland public schools and then enrolled at UC Berkley. “Mom was smart in the sense she knew there were no opportunities in El Salvador. She was brave. She not only had to make the trip to the United States, she had to leave behind the people she loved, and she also came to a place where she didn’t know anyone. She didn’t know the country and she didn’t know the language.”
  • Mendez is the father of five children ages 6 to 20. He has been married for 12 years to his wife Dulce.
  • He likes playing soccer and reading and learning about different cultures.

-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

Latest Stories

Filter from

June 03, 2020 IU Health COVID-19 data for the West Central Region IU Health is committed to being a trusted source of information for the public during t... June 01, 2020 Neufelders’ Gift Expands Care for Abuse, Sexual Assault Victims When IU Health West Central Region President Dan Neufelder and his wife, Jane, learned ... May 11, 2020 Pediatricians worry about the cancellation of well-child visits Children are not the focus of this pandemic, but they should be. Pediatricians are worr... May 08, 2020 Slowly resuming elective procedures, select clinical services and in person Primary Care services The West Central Region of IU Health is slowly resuming elective procedures, select cli... April 21, 2020 Connecting patients and visitors at IU Health Arnett Even with strict visitor restrictions in place for the safety of the patients and the c... April 13, 2020 IU Health Arnett offering drive-thru testing for patients with IU Health physician orders It’s a popular question—who needs testing for COVID-19? Not everyone needs to be tested... April 11, 2020 IU Health Arnett Nurses Head South to Help North Indiana University Health North Hospital has seen a sudden increase of COVID-19 patient... April 10, 2020 Meal Train goes live to help feed IU Health Arnett team members During the COVID-19 crisis many restaurants, community groups and individuals have expr... April 10, 2020 IU Health Arnett physicians ready to serve virtually The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things, but it has not changed the commitment of... April 08, 2020 Nurse, transplant patient diagnosed with COVID-19: “I felt car sick” She had a new lease on life after her transplant so a year later she followed her passi... March 20, 2020 IU Health Arnett NICU earns Level III accreditation The Maternal and Child Health Division at the Indiana State Department of Health has gr... February 27, 2020 Residents thanked for living the IU Health Way During a recent visit to the West Central Region of IU Health, Dennis Murphy, president... February 26, 2020 A rainbow at the end of a storm. The Williamson family makes a generous donation of a Cuddle Cot to the IU Health Founda... February 26, 2020 IU Health Arnett Cancer Center earns ARC Accreditation IU Health Arnett Cancer Center has been awarded a three-year term of accreditation in r... February 07, 2020 Resident working with family on delivery of number two When Amanda Parker found out she was pregnant for the second time, she knew exactly whe... February 04, 2020 IU Health Arnett Hospital awarded Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission Indiana University Health Arnett Hospital has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal o... January 31, 2020 IU Health Arnett Physicians welcomes neurosurgeon Garrett J. Jackson, MD Indiana University Health Arnett Physicians is pleased to welcome Garrett J. Jackson, M... January 27, 2020 IU Health Foundation grants $64,588 to Lafayette and Monticello hospitals The IU Health Foundation announced the funding of four projects in west-central Indiana... January 27, 2020 His mom was working in urgent care when he got cancer diagnosis It wasn’t unusual for Geoffrey Kime to get blood clots in his legs so he wasn’t alarmed... January 09, 2020 IU Health Arnett Cancer Center recognized for achieving NAPBC Accreditation The National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC), a quality program of the... January 07, 2020 Orthopedics expands services IU Health Arnett Orthopedics and Sports Medicine is excited to announce the expansion o... December 20, 2019 IU Precision Health Consent IU Precision Health Consent is a statewide initiative, co-developed by Indiana Universi... December 17, 2019 IU Health host Community Partner Recognition event The West Central Region of Indiana University Health Community Outreach and Engagement ... December 17, 2019 Nurse practitioner has a heart for healthcare Rexanna Tatlock works as a nurse practitioner for IU Health Arnett Cardiology. She also... December 13, 2019 Nurse practitioner rhythmically choreographs pediatric care Mallori Walker doesn’t only see her young patients when they are sick; she enjoys follo... December 03, 2019 IU Health Arnett Participates in national age-friendly health systems’ initiative Indiana University Health Arnett announced today that it is part of a movement to impro... November 27, 2019 Caregivers offer hope to victims of abuse, sexual assault The Center of Hope at IU Health Arnett recently celebrated a year of providing personal... November 13, 2019 Harmonicas for Health A group of seniors with COPD learned new breathing techniques in a fun way – by playing... November 13, 2019 Center of Hope celebrates first year On Tuesday, Nov. 12 we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Center of Hope with a... October 17, 2019 The Tragedy of Losing a Child October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. Of the tragedies a pare... October 03, 2019 Red Shoes awarded to Mustafa Hussain, MD Mustafa Hussain, MD, second year resident with IU Health Arnett Family Medicine Residen... August 02, 2019 IU Health Foundation Grants to Benefit West Central Indiana Thirteen projects will be funded at IU Health White Memorial, IU Health Arnett and IU H... June 28, 2019 Married to Medicine At work, they’re known as Dr. Noor Bakroun and Dr. Mustafa Hussain, two highly-skille... June 17, 2019 IU Health Arnett Physicians welcome new Family Medicine nurse practitioner, Kristie Tidrick, FNP- BC Indiana University Health Arnett Physicians is pleased to announce Kristie Tidrick, FNP... June 14, 2019 IU Health Arnett Earns National Recognition For Patient-Centered Care The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) announced that IU Health Arnett has... June 04, 2019 New Agent Helps IU Health Arnett identify re-occurring prostate cancer Indiana University Health Arnett is using a new imaging agent, Axumin, to help doctors ... June 03, 2019 IU Health extends behavioral health support to Arnett Hospital On Monday, June 3, Indiana University Health will begin providing virtual behavioral he... May 30, 2019 Melissa Fox named 2019 Pediatric Hero Award Melissa Fox, emergency department clinical nurse at IU Health Arnett Hospital was recen... April 18, 2019 His Fight is Our Fight Parker Runyon was married in October. He became a father in January. The same month he ... April 11, 2019 Thelma & Louise keep NICU team emergency ready IU Health Arnett’s twin simulators representing babies at 25 weeks gestation help keep ... March 20, 2019 IU Health Arnett Cancer Center earns National Accreditation The Commission on Cancer (CoC), a quality program of the American College of Surgeons (... March 14, 2019 Tragedy leads to a passion to educate parents Of the tragedies a parent can endure, perhaps none is more heart wrenching than the los... March 07, 2019 Emergency Education for Children: Teaching ‘Stop the Bleed’ Through the Stop the Bleed program, the American College of Surgeons strives to empower... March 05, 2019 Flora man reunited with nurse who saved his life On May, 9, 2015, Mitch Piotrowski was heading home with his family to Flora after spend... March 05, 2019 Nurse United Husband and Wife One Last Time When the weather prevented her patient from seeing his wife for what may have been a fi... February 25, 2019 Joint Commission prep invokes wizards (and fun) at IU Health Arnett IU Health Arnett team members are getting creative with their preparation for The Joint... February 15, 2019 Pediatrics receives amazing donation The pediatric department at IU Health Arnett Hospital received an amazing donation from... February 14, 2019 Special graduation in NICU A story that will warm your heart just in time for Valentine’s Day! A special day for l... February 11, 2019 Postpartum Depression: Putting Together the Pieces of the Puzzle IU Health Arnett recently launched a new support group to help mothers suffering from P... January 31, 2019 The gift of distraction comforts pediatric patients Being in the hospital can be stressful for patients and their loved ones. A trip to the... January 09, 2019 $47,000 in IU Health Arnett Hospital Grants to Benefit Area Health The IU Health Arnett Hospital Philanthropy Council, in partnership with the IU Health F... January 08, 2019 IU Health Arnett offers community outreach during annual Convoy of Hope IU Health Arnett team members spent a day giving back at the 2018 Greater Lafayette Con... October 30, 2018 Nurse Takes On The Sexual Assault Beast IU Health Arnett Hospital nurse Megan Shupe takes sexual assault personally. That’s why... September 21, 2018 Co-workers Support Mom of Two Young Sons When an IU Health Arnett certified RN anesthetist was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leuk... August 20, 2018 50 Years Of Experience: Nurse Keeps Precious Cargo Safe She’s the fourth generation of nurses in her family and Terri Jones has found her niche... July 10, 2018 Nurses Pay Tribute To Their Own When a nurse dies, fellow comrades are there dressed in white – paying tribute to one o... June 28, 2018 Foundation Funds Prep Kits for Arnett GI Patients Tracy Smith, a gastrointestinal patient navigator at Indiana University Health Arnett H... May 30, 2018 SAFE2TALK teen texting program providing a valuable resource May is Mental Health Awareness month. A case of the “Mondays” can turn into weeks or mo... May 30, 2018 Virus Warrior: He Keeps All 130,000 Hospital Machines Secure Whether it’s a ventilator or a vital signs monitor, a computer or a credit card machine... March 14, 2018 IU Health Foundation Receives $1.4 Million Peer Recovery Coaching Award The Indiana University Health Foundation has secured a $1.4 million award from the Indi...