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Know Your Rights
Source: Associated Press
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Media Coverage

N.Y. to Require Hospital Translators

N.Y. — New York will require all hospitals to provide skilled
translators amid fears that family members can be unreliable translators for non-English
speaking patients.

The reliance on friends
and family to translate for patients – a common practice in exam rooms – can
interfere with medical care, advocates say. A well-intentioned niece may
hesitate to share upsetting news, or a patient might not disclose symptoms for
fear of alarming their child. In other cases, information may just get garbled.

"It impedes the
ability for information to flow freely and violates patient confidentiality
laws,"said Adam Gurvitch, director of health advocacy at the New York
Immigration Coalition (Make the Road by
Walking is a leading member of the NYIC
), which pushed for the new
regulations that took effect Wednesday.

Most hospitals will
likely rely on volunteers, bilingual staff and telephone translation agencies
to meet the new rules, he said. There are no state or federal standards for
what qualifies as a"skilled" medical interpreter.

Jeffrey Hammond,
spokesman for the state Health Department, said the regulations will be
enforced through the state’s regular onsite visits and by investigating patient
complaints to the department’s hot line.

Previously, hospitals
were required to provide interpreters for all patients, but the broad wording
allowed them to count children and relatives as translators, Gurvitch said. The
new regulations clarify those terms and requires hospitals to appoint language
coordinators and identify a patient’s primary language on medical records.

Patients could still
choose to use friends or relatives as interpreters, but only after they refused
translators provided by the hospital.

Children under 16 may
not be used, except in emergencies.

Most hospitals — particularly those in cosmopolitan areas — already have practices in place to
prevent the use of family as interpreters, said Bill Van Slyke, spokesman for
the Healthcare Association of New York State, which represents the state’s
hospitals and nursing homes.

The use of telephone
translation agencies in particular is becoming more common, he said.

That is the case at
Albany Medical Center, which as a policy does not use family members or any
untrained interpreters as translators. The center instead relies heavily on a
24-hour phone translator service and contracts with an outside agency to
provide face-to-face translations and accommodations for the hearing impaired.

Earlier last year, the
New York Immigration Coalition asked the state to take legal action against
four metropolitan area hospitals for failing to provide interpreters for
emergency patients.

advocacy group said it documented dozens of cases where patients who didn’t
speak English faced life-threatening medical crises, including cases of doctors
using cab drivers to interpret vital medical information.