Chinese communities in New York City now have access to a dedicated fleet of three ambulances staffed by Chinese-speaking emergency medical technicians, the Asian American Ambulance service. Based in Brooklyn, the fleet started operating in April 2016 and also serves Lower Manhattan, and Queens. The service attracted media attention early on after delivering a baby roadside on the way to the hospital. In fact, it has gained so much traction that its parent ambulance service, Midwood Ambulance Service, announced plans to purchase three new ambulances to expand the fleet. Midwood has also combined the service with community outreach and pledged to sponsor young Chinese immigrants to train as EMT’s.
Midwood Ambulance Service launched the full-time fleet in response to New York City’s growing Chinese population, which now represents 45% of the city’s Asian population. Between 2008 and 2011 alone, the Chinese population grew more than 10%. In addition, Chinese communities are no longer located predominantly in Manhattan’s renowned Chinatown. Brooklyn is now home to 37% of New York City’s Chinese. Bensonhurst, the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Asian American Ambulance service is based, has traditionally been predominantly Italian-American but is now home to the highest concentration of Asian Americans in New York City. Asians now represent nearly 40% of Bensonhurst’s population and the community’s numbers have increased nearly 50% between 2000 and 2013.
An influx of immigrants from Asia to New York City, including over 400,000 from China alone between 2009 and 2013, is the source of the increase in the city’s Asian population. However, over 60% of New York’s Chinese immigrants report having limited English proficiency and are reluctant to call upon emergency medical services for fear of miscommunicating important information.
The Asian American Ambulance service is one of many healthcare services aiming to lessen the language barrier for Chinese immigrants and encouraging them to seek out medical help if necessary. United Healthcare has been operating an Asian Initiatives program and employing Chinese-speaking employees in New York for over 20 years. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York also started employing bilingual employees to better serve Chinese communities in New York. Finally, the Chinese-American Planning Council of New York offers many services to Chinese immigrants of all ages serving a variety of purposes, from early education to career-planning. Thus, as the city’s Chinese-speaking population continues to grow, it seems multilingual public services will become increasingly prevalent.
Andrea Moneton is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.