Yaritza Vargas: Breaking down language and cultural barriers to improve healthcare
Ladder is a platform for publishing various picture books and online programs with the mission of empowering over one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews from our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship ecosystem builders, who advance the UN SDGs.
Hi! It’s me, Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist reporting on planet Earth with the latest scoop on entrepreneurs impacting UN SDG 3: Good health and well-being. Today I am conducting my 300th interview with someone who shows the world how to solve problems and achieve the UN SDGs! Yaritza Vargas, co-founder and COO of LingoHealth, works hard to improve health care for immigrants. Let’s see how she does it!
Spicy: Welcome, Yaritza, I am very honored to have you here today. Can you tell me what challenges you are taking on through LingoHealth?
Yaritza: It’s an honor to be here, Spiffy. As a first-generation American, I saw first-hand how language and cultural barriers can make life more difficult for millions of people in immigrant communities. These challenges are especially difficult when it comes to navigating healthcare in the United States. Multilingual families are more likely to involve their younger relatives in care, but there are often no tools to facilitate this care. My co-founder and I are building a digital health business so families like ours can have better care.
Spicy: I can attest to how difficult it is to navigate the American system! What motivated you to do it? It sounds so intimidating!
Yaritza: While I wish I could say that my commitment to increasing access to health care is rooted in a nobler history, it stems from a lingering frustration. Like many older daughters from immigrant families, I was tasked with defending my family in this deeply broken system from an early age. Growing up, I remember going with my siblings and parents to their dates. In addition to translating increasingly specialized appointments, I found myself struggling to ensure that my loved ones got the right services and the right medications.
Spicy: How would you say LingoHealth is striving to make America and the world a more caring, fairer place for people?
Yaritza: More than one in five Americans speak a language other than English at home. During this pandemic, we have seen the importance of ensuring that our healthcare system can serve all of its patients. At LingoHealth, we use technology to give family advocates visibility into the next steps of care to bring loved ones to the most appropriate site of care and better manage their health. Healthcare, including digital health, shouldn’t be ‘one-size-fits-all’ and we believe it’s critical to create a digital solution that integrates family and culture into the care of aging Americans.
Spicy: Have you achieved milestones that you are particularly proud of? What kind of impact do you anticipate?
Yaritza: Well, Spiffy, we started exploring our business idea at the start of the pandemic and have conducted hundreds of interviews. As we headed into 2021, the only question we heard from doctors and family members of patients was “How do I get my loved ones vaccinated?” We realized that most of the vaccine information was mostly in English and buried in websites with a lot of text. I know for the Latinx community there are a lot of people who communicate exclusively on WhatsApp. Why was there no multilingual and easily shareable information on this type of channel? We have launched a site with downloadable information in five different languages regarding Covid-19 vaccinations. We had over 1,000 visitors to the site in the first three weeks and 83% of downloads were in a language other than English!
Spicy: It’s amazing, Yaritza! It shows how necessary it is. I’m curious if you’ve ever been faced with failure. Did you give up or learn something important?
Yaritza: When we started to introduce LingoHealth to investors, we faced our share of skepticism. Despite presenting a wealth of compelling demographics and user anecdotes, many investors, especially those with limited personal experience with this injustice, did not believe this was a problem. My co-founder and I quickly learned to adapt our pitch to very different types of investors (some were enthusiastic about our mission and others preferred that we stick to the numbers!) And dust ourselves off after the rejections. Since our business idea was tied to our personal passion, it was quite difficult not to take some investor rejections personally, but in the end we think it helped us find the best possible investors who believe in what we build.
Spicy: I believe you can learn from anyone and I love lessons from children, peers, or even pets! Have you learned anything interesting lately?
Yaritza: I am a proud dog and cat mom. One thing I learned from Goku, my Klee Kai, is “Let go and enjoy the smells!” Goku likes to attract interesting scents on walks, which at times has led to some really interesting new routes that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Spicy: I love it! Before signing, is there anything else you would like to tell our audience?
Yaritza: We’ve seen the stigma our families face when entering a clinical setting – how front desk staff abruptly dismiss questions on forms, how doctors seem impatient or even condescending to patients who speak with patients. accents, and how such behavior can manifest itself in terms like “total body pain” which relieves these patients of responsibility. We have seen family members delay needed care and, in some extreme cases, leave the United States to seek care. We understand that the fears and anxiety associated with these cultural barriers can create a reactive rather than a proactive approach to health. Patients with limited English proficiency are significantly less likely to have a usual place of care and more likely to have poorer health.
Spicy: Hope LingoHealth can help put care back into health care! Thank you very much for sharing your passion and ideas with us, Yaritza, it has been an honor.
Yaritza Vargas is the co-founder and COO of LingoHealth. His professional experience ranges from politics at the National Institute of Health to consulting with federal health care payers. She was part of the founding team of Verano Health, a nonprofit chronic disease management organization. Yaritza holds an MBA from Stanford University and a BS in Healthcare Management and Policy from Georgetown University.(Nominated by Hands visible. First published on the Ladderworks website on November 2, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Illustration of Spiffy by Shreyas Navare. Follow the interviews of the founders of Spiffy who are building a fairer world here.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.