En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

Be Our Guest: Force pharmacies to follow translation rules for safety

New York City has undergone a
major demographic shift. Over the past two decades, new immigrants have
revitalized our city. Today, half of all New Yorkers speak a language other
than English in the home. One out of every four New Yorkers is still in the
process of learning English. Nonetheless, these new New Yorkers have made
neighborhoods across the city safer, and they are working hard and paying the
taxes that keep our city running. Their children will be the future leaders of
our great city.  

Mayor
Bloomberg understands and values the increasing diversity of New York City. As mayor, he signed Executive
Order 120, which mandates translation and interpretation services at all New York City agencies.
His campaign Web site is excitingly inclusive of all New Yorkers. Information
is available in Spanish, German, Polish, Italian, French, Russian, Greek,
Yiddish, Korean, Chinese and Haitian Creole.  


Most
New York
pharmacies, though, are sadly behind the mayor on this issue. In 2006,
Make the Road New York, the New York
Immigration Coalition and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest filed a
civil rights complaint against a number of major pharmacies alleging widespread
failure to comply with city, state and federal laws requiring translation and
interpretation services that millions of New Yorkers desperately need.  


Taking
medication can be dangerous, and it is essential that all New Yorkers
understand how to safely take the medications that their doctors prescribe.
Taking too much asthma medication, for example, can put you in a coma.  


In
November, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced an exiting settlement
agreement with the two largest pharmacy chains in New York State.
CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies agreed to provide customers at more than 2,000
pharmacies throughout the state with spoken and written language services in
Chinese, French, Italian, Russian, Polish and Spanish. Cuomo’s office is
currently negotiating similar settlement agreements with a number of other
major pharmacy chains. 

The
attorney general is making great progress to ensure safe pharmacies for all New
Yorkers and to avoid unnecessary public expenditures on emergency room
admissions and other medical treatment that result from misunderstood
medication regimens.  

Nonetheless,
more than 80% of all New York
pharmacies remain unaffected by his work, and most are failing to provide the
language services their customers need. Children and families are in danger.
Every day, New Yorkers take the wrong dosage of medications, or take their
medications more or less frequently than they should. Every day, New Yorkers
take dangerous combinations of medicines, or ingest topical medications as a
result of language barriers. 

It
is crucial that Bloomberg and the City Council take action to solve this
problem and protect millions of New Yorkers.

Legislation
(Intro. 859) was recently introduced by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum that
would promote patient safety and equal access to health care. The bill requires
pharmacies to provide free, competent oral interpretation services, be able to
translate medication labels, keep records of each patient’s primary language,
and post notices regarding patients’ rights to language assistance services at
the counter where prescription drugs are sold. 

Bloomberg
raised the bar for city agencies by signing Executive Order 120, ensuring
language access and equitable service provisions for all New Yorkers. Now, the
health of millions of New Yorkers depends on city government requiring the same
of pharmacies throughout New York City.
 

Andrew
Friedman
is co-founder and co-executive director of Make the Road New
York
, a community-based
organization founded on the belief that the center of leadership must be within
the community.