Alberta Health Services is cutting its entire interpretation and translation services department in Calgary and contracting out the services to a California-based firm, CBC News has confirmed.


Rick Lundy of Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society says patients who don't speak English should not be told about their medical care over the telephone. (CBC)

The job cuts affect about a dozen workers, but a local health advocate worries about the impact on patients who don't speak English.

"When a patient needs to be involved in their care, they need to have a proper translation right in front of them," said Rick Lundy, a spokesperson with Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society.

Medical staff and patients in need of translation won't have the option of talking with a local translator. Instead, they'll have to contact a California call centre run by Language Line Solutions.

Alberta Health Services (AHS)  justifies the move, stressing the call centre is cheaper and offers more than 170 languages and dialects. 

Medical staff in Calgary have used the Language Line for the last six years, alongside the current service being cut. But in the coming weeks, the call centre will do all of AHS's translation services.

"It could be viewed as outsourcing," concedes AHS spokesperson Julie Kerr.

AHS began using the California call centre six years ago "because it was deemed to be a good service" and reduces duplication to "make better use of our resources," she said.

Lundy disagrees, speculating Calgary patients who don't speak English will have trouble getting the information they need to make informed health decisions.

"Obviously this isn't going to happen. So it's very concerning," he said.

All local translation services end in Calgary on June 28.