En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: Kaiser Health News
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

New York City Immigrant Advocacy Groups Expected To File Lawsuit Alleging Some Pharmacies Fail To Translate Prescription Drug Labels for Non-English Speaking Customers

A discrimination complaint expected to be filed on Wednesday with the New York attorney general’s office claims that 16 pharmacies in New York City fail to provide adequate translation and interpretation services for non-English-speaking customers, the New York Times reports. According to the complaint, federal law and state health regulations require pharmacies to guarantee equal access to care for those with limited English language skills. Such assistance should include interpreters at pharmacies and a written translation of prescription labels, according to the complaint. Advocates said that not all pharmacies have policies that correspond with those regulations, and even the ones that do, do not follow them consistently.

The complaint also cites the New York Education Law, which says that medications must be labeled in a way that ordinary people can understand.

The complaint was initiated by the immigrant advocacy groups Make the Road New York, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the New York Immigration Coalition and updates an earlier version of the complaint that was filed in July. The complaint expected to be filed Wednesday adds additional pharmacies to the list and includes a report with additional examples of issues non-English-speaking customers have had at pharmacies. Nisha Agarwal, a lawyer for one of the groups filing the complaint, said that in response to the original complaint, the attorney general’s office issued subpoenas to several pharmacies.

Andrew Friedman, an executive director of Make the Road New York, said, "The idea is that people should not be placed in danger by not understanding their medication regimen."

According to a study to be published in the November issue of the Journal of Urban Health, 34% of 200 New York City pharmacies translated medication labels daily for non-English-speaking patients and 80% said they had the ability to do so. The study also found that 88% of the pharmacies surveyed reported working with non-English-speaking customers on a daily basis and that 26% said they never translated labels for non-English-speaking customers.

Pharmacies Respond
Six of the pharmacies named in the new complaint are operated by Rite Aid Pharmacy, three by CVS Pharmacy, three by Duane Reade and one each by Walgreen and Wal-Mart, according to the Times. CVS said it is cooperating with the attorney general and provides interpretation services for 150 languages. The other companies declined to comment directly on the complaint but generally said they try to provide good service to a diverse population. Walgreen provides medication labels in 14 languages and keeps a database of pharmacists who speak other languages, which allows other pharmacists to phone a colleague who can help with non-English-speaking customers, according to Tiffani Bruce, a Walgreen spokesperson. Rite Aid provides labels in 12 languages and has tried to hire bilingual pharmacists, according to the Times (Barnard, New York Times, 10/31).