***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
November 13th, 2008 – Immigrant New Yorkers Achieve Major Civil Rights Victory
New York, NY – Today, over a million immigrant New Yorkers celebrated an important civil rights victory, when the New York State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, announced the signing of settlement agreements with CVS and Rite-Aid pharmacies that require both pharmacy chains to provide free language assistance services to non-English speaking patients. The agreements are the result of a civil rights complaint filed by Make the Road New York and the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, alleging that CVS, Rite-Aid and other pharmacies throughout New York City violated civil rights laws by failing to provide interpretation services and translated medication labels for patients who are limited English proficient (LEP).
"We spoke with dozens of community members and conducted our own investigation of the problem, and it was clear that significant numbers of limited-English-proficient patients were not receiving the translation and interpretation services that pharmacies have to provide by law," said Barcilides Matos, a Board Member of Make the Road New York. "We are glad that the Attorney General’s office responded to our complaint, investigated this problem, and reached a resolution with two of the largest chain pharmacies in the country."
The groups cited cases in which people were forced to put their health or that of their children at risk because they did not understand the labels on the medicines they took home. "Once, I took a bottle of what I thought was a syrup for my child to drink. I gave him a couple of teaspoons and later I found out that it was actually something to put on his skin. I didn’t know because nobody at the pharmacy explained this when they gave it to me, and the label was in English," said Maria Cadena, a Spanish-speaking Queens resident, and a member of Make the Road New York.
"I work with community members who tell me that they are afraid to even go to the pharmacy anymore because they know they will not be able to communicate," said Theo Oshiro, Director of Health Advocacy at Make the Road New York. "Hopefully, as a result of these settlement agreements, we will see major improvements in pharmacies throughout New York."
According to Nisha Agarwal, a lawyer at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, pharmacies are required to make sure their patients understand the medicines they are taking home. "Federal civil rights law, New York State law, and New York City law all make it clear that pharmacies should provide translation services in order to ensure equal access. It is clear that many pharmacies are breaking the law," said Agarwal. "The agreements that the Attorney General signed with CVS and Rite-Aid are a clear signal that these laws will be enforced, and that all pharmacies must comply to ensure equal access and patient safety."
The settlement agreements signed today will impact over 2,000 CVS and Rite-Aid stores across New York State, and require, among other things, that pharmacies make translated prescription labels available in the top six languages spoken in New York and ensure that customers of the pharmacy receive medication counseling in their primary language.
"The Attorney General’s office is to be congratulated for signing these agreements," Mr. Oshiro added. "But the true victory belongs to the hundreds of immigrant community members who stepped forward, spoke up, and took action to ensure that all New Yorkers can safely access pharmacies regardless of the language they speak."