During his time at Grant Thornton from 2010 to 2014, Michael Alden worked in the restructuring practice in New York City, focusing on financial and strategic turnaround services. Now he applies those skills to the Health & Human Services Industry, serving as VP of Business Development at Ascentria Care Alliance.
With a goal to make human services more effective, Ascentria created a nonprofit subsidiary called Language Bank that trains and employs refugees and other new Americans as professional language interpreters.
Michael served as General Manager of Language Bank for a year, expanding it from New Hampshire where it began, to Massachusetts. He is passionate about the business—which in 2017 was named one of the Top 100 Most Innovative Social Enterprises in the World by Classy, the leading nonprofit giving software and fundraising platform. He’s also passionate about the Language Bank team.
The Danger of Language Barriers in Healthcare
A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine says medical errors should rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States. Language barriers have been identified as a common source of medical errors.
Michael shares two recent examples: Surgery was performed on the wrong person because the patient
had the same name as a relative, who was also a patient. Another non-English speaking patient used the
word intoxicado—which means stomach indigestion—to describe his condition but the doctor
interpreted it to mean he was drunk. The absence of a professionally trained interpreter resulted in the
patient falling into a coma. These kinds of challenges are representative of the importance of
communication in the care of patients with limited English proficiency and therefore the importance of
When we hear the word refugee, many of us are likely to think of the patients in this scenario. But, in
fact, refugees are the heroes in this story. They are the hard workers of Language Bank.
“I have come to admire the resiliency and courage of refugees,” Michael says. “Refugees have the same
commitment to the same values and ideals as you and me. The difference is that they were living
somewhere else and were forcibly displaced.”
They flee from imminent danger and often wait 5-10 years or more until they are granted refugee status
by the contracting state or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which was
created in 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of Europeans who had
fled or lost their homes.
Language Bank (& Refugees) Save Lives
Language Bank trains and employs bilingual refugees as interpreters in courts and law firms
(depositions, trials, etc.), hospitals (surgeries, inpatient screening, etc.), and even presidential town halls
(sign language). “Some of our interpreters are doctors and professors, bringing a lot of
underappreciated skills and deep insight to these critical settings. They are intelligent and savvy,”
“Worcester, New England’s second largest city, relies on Language Bank for helping people with limited
English proficiency in civic matters,” Michael says, “because we have the languages hard to find
anywhere else.”Though based in New England, Language Bank provides 24/7 onsite interpretation in
60+ languages and provides written translation anywhere, in virtually any language.
We congratulate Language Bank on its award and impact. We encourage you to support Grant Thornton
alumni and grow your organization by reaching new people and the same people better
through Language Bank.