Making a ‘human connection’: Disability advocate to receive James T. Neubacher Award

October 28, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,
Christa Moran

Christa Moran has always had an interest in helping others. Growing up in a family of medical care professionals, family dinner discussions often focused on patients and their care.

When she heard about the claims of a deaf man’s family — that he died of cancer after a medical facility failed to give him a sign language interpreter, which kept him from fully understanding his diagnosis — a light bulb went off in Moran’s head.  

“It was something that just hit me. This is something that I need to do,” she said. “I need to put together all the areas I feel I have skills in and a passion for, and do it. I threw myself into getting the training to be an interpreter.” 

After intensive medical interpreter training and years of field work, Moran is a supervising staff interpreter and trainer of medical interpreters at Michigan Medicine.

She is also this year’s James T. Neubacher Award recipient, given to the university’s top champion of those with disabilities. She will receive the award at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29, during a virtual ceremony. All are invited to attend.

Improving access

Michigan Medicine’s Interpreter Services provides interpreting and translation services and works to improve access to health care for deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, and limited-English-proficient patients by eliminating language barriers.

“I love my job so much,” Moran said. “I always say that if I won the lottery, I’d still show up for work the next day — just in a nicer car.”

Moran spends most of her work days racing between Michigan Medicine’s hospitals, clinics and health centers, interpreting during in-person and virtual patient appointments.

Like the other highly-trained medical interpreters at Michigan Medicine, she provides equal access to health care so that deaf or limited-English-proficient patients get answers to their questions, understand their surgery plans or are simply able to engage in small talk with their doctors, nurses or other medical staff, which can often make stressful meetings feel more relaxed.

“My job is to provide accurate interpretation, but my goal is for the patient and provider to make that important human connection,” she said. “It’s great when the medical professional or the patient looks at me at the end and says, ‘I forgot you were here.’”

Focused on the patient experience

Although her primary work is with patients who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing, Moran’s colleagues said she works tirelessly to uplift all aspects of the disability community and looks for every way possible to enhance their patient experience.

“Christa worked effortlessly with several members of her interpreting team to ensure that interpreting would still take place remotely when in-person visits were not permitted because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michael McKee, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of family medicine.

As a member of the Michigan Medicine Disability Resource Group, Moran was recently part of a team that worked to expand the ability for patients to notify the health care team of accommodations prior to entering the health system.

She was also behind an effort that made Michigan Medicine one of the first hospitals in the country to offer videophones in patient rooms and in the emergency department.

“Christa is one of the superheroes living among us,” said Michelle A. Meade, Ph.D., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and co-director at the Center for Disability Health and Wellness. “She is a staunch and fierce advocate for our entire disability community.”

About the James T. Neubacher Award

The U-M Council for Disability Concerns established the James T. Neubacher Award in October 1990 as a memorial to Jim Neubacher, an alumnus of the university who was a columnist for The Detroit Free Press and an advocate for equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities.

Through his advocacy, he sought to “raise a little consciousness” and “raise a little hell!” The award is presented annually in October during Disability Community Month, a series of programs and activities focused on disability inclusion, disability awareness, and disability-related issues.