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Topics > Reducing Health Disparities Initiative > What We Are Doing > Environmental Health Tackles Linguistic Barriers

Environmental Health Tackles Linguistic Barriers

(L to R) EH Director Ken Stuart, Sr Registered Environmental Health Specialist Roberto Rodriguez, and Supervising Environmental Health Specialist Vanessa Cordier

Department-wide efforts to reduce health disparities inspired our Environmental Health division to look for ways to improve linguistic access for the public. EH, which oversees permitting and inspection of food service facilities among other things, tackled language barriers that exist for some restaurant owners and food vendors.

A Problem of Understanding

For example, many non-English speaking restaurant owners were bringing their friends, relatives and even children to interpret for them at administrative hearings on health or safety violations, said Vanessa Cordier, Supervising Environmental Health Specialist. "We were uncertain if information was being translated accurately."

"If a person isn't able to understand, they won't be able to make corrections," said Vanessa, who is a member of our Reducing Health Disparities Initiative (RHDI) work group.

Bridging the Communications Barrier

EH decided to make use of our department-wide contracts with interpretation services vendors, which already provide interpreters in a variety of languages at the hospital and elsewhere. EH inspectors can use the vendors to arrange for an interpreter to come to a restaurant or business, depending on the urgency of the situation.

Top Languages Spoken at Home in Contra Costa County (Population 5 Years and Over)
Language Percent of Residents
English 74.0%
Spanish 13.1%
Tagalog 2.6%
Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Persian, Japanese, French, Italian, German each between 0.8 and 0.4%

"This will help people understand and comply with regulations and orders to make improvements," Vanessa said. Two inspectors also are bilingual in Spanish.

Going the Extra Mile in Reducing Health Disparities

Roberto Rodriguez, Senior Registered Environmental Health Specialist, is one of Environmental Health's bilingual inspectors who speaks Spanish. During his free time, he teaches a food safety class in Spanish at Richmond Adult School. The class is required for certification as a safe food handler and every restaurant is required to have at least one employee certified. The class was only being offered in English until another inspector started the Spanish course several years ago. Roberto took over the class when the other inspector left.

Roberto said he is glad to help reduce health disparities and only wishes he could speak even more languages. "I got into this field to help people keep safe," he said. "If we don't offer the class in a person's native language then we aren't doing our best to educate them."

More Improvements on the Way

"The division is working on two more ways to increase linguistic access," said EH Director Ken Stuart.

One is updating their phone system to provide more options in Spanish. Another is using CyraCom International, which already serves some of our other divisions, for immediate interpretation services by phone. This would be a vital service when an inspector isn't able to communicate with a business owner or worker during an emergency, such as a sewage leak.

EH also will participate along with other divisions as beta testers for a computer program that can instantly translate spoken and typed words.

For more information, call Vanessa Cordier at 925-692-2500 or e-mail her at

The California Endowment has awarded $125,000 to our Reducing Health Disparities Initiative to complete and pilot our curriculum for educating CCHS managers on health disparities and culturally competent service excellence.

Content provided by the Reducing Health Disparities Initiative.

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