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Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Pubs & Reports

Lost in Translation II

About this Report

For years, immigrant New Yorkers have suffered from inadequate translation and interpretation services at New York City’s public and private hospitals. The 2000 Census reports that 47% of all New York City households speak a language other than English in the home. One out of every four New Yorkers do not speak English. As the City’s demographics have shifted over the years, complaints about access to health care for immigrants have intensified.

During the Fall of 2004 and Spring of 2005, Spanish-speaking members and organizers from Make the Road by Walking, the Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center, Iglesia San Romero de las Americas UCC, the New York Civic Participation Project, and Alianza Dominicana Inc. interviewed over 105 Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center (Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital) to ascertain the scope of the problem.1

Lost in Translation summarizes briefly the City, State, and federal laws that require language assistance services for LEP New Yorkers; presents the results of our surveys of LEP patients of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital; and outlines our attempts to work with Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital to improve the situation.

The Legal Context

Federal, state and local laws require that hospitals provide LEP persons with access to interpreters and translators:

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the oldest of these laws. Passed more than forty years ago, this law prohibits hospitals that receive federal money from discriminating against persons based on race, national origin or color. Title VI requires hospitals to ensure that all individuals have meaningful access to their programs and services. Under Title VI, hospitals must provide LEP persons with interpretation and translation services so that they, like English-speakers, can access the hospital’s services.

On the state level, the New York State Public Health Law requires hospitals to ensure effective communication between doctors and patients. In 1986, the New York State Department of Health created regulations, called the Patients’ Bill of Rights, which requires hospitals to establish a system that will provide interpreters and translators to LEP persons living in their service areas.

On the city level, the New York City Council passed the City Emergency Room Interpreter Law in 1986. This law requires hospitals to have interpreters available for persons who are admitted in the emergency room.

Our survey data reveal that the overwhelming majority of LEP patients at Columbia-Presbyterian hospital are not receiving appropriate language support services. Patients are not being provided required interpretation services, are not receiving written materials that they can read and understand, and are not being notified of their right to services. As a result, patients are having to make their own arrangements for interpretation, are experiencing confusion, and feel humiliated and discriminated against in their treatment.

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