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

New York Hospitals Making Improvements in Spanish Interpretation Services but More Languages Needed, Report Finds

The availability of
Spanish interpretation services in New
York City
hospitals has improved in the last two years,
but more services are needed for speakers of other languages, according to a
report released this week by the New York Immigration Coalition and other
groups, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports.

The report, "Now We’re Talking," is based on surveys conducted
between October 2007 and February of 617 New York City residents who speak
Spanish or Korean and no English. Officials stressed that the study is only a
snapshot of the issue and is not scientific, according to AP/Newsday. According to Adam Gurvitch,
NYIC’s director of health advocacy, the state has made "real strides"
in providing Spanish translation services, but a "real disparity"
still remains for other languages.

The report found that 79% of respondents said they were able to receive
interpretation services in state hospitals. Before state health officials began
requiring hospitals to provide interpretation services for non-English-speaking
patients in 2006, 29% of respondents in a similar survey reported receiving
interpretation services, according to the report. Before the regulation, it was
common for non-English-speaking residents to be told to provide their own
interpreter, such as a friend or family member. The new survey found that 5% of
non-English-speaking residents were told to bring their own interpreter.

The report called for more interpretation services for other patients who do
not speak English, especially Arabic, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean and
Russian speakers. According to advocacy groups, language barriers can make it
difficult for patients to explain symptoms, understand diagnoses and navigate
the insurance system, potentially leading to medical mistakes, misdiagnosis or
death. They added that relying on nonprofessional interpreters to provide
medical information violates patient privacy and could be traumatizing for an
interpreter who is a child or family member.

Andrew Friedman, co-executive
director of
Make the Road New York, a civil rights organization that
participated in the report, said, "It is simply impossible to provide
quality health care unless patients can communicate their symptoms clearly,
understand their diagnosis and knowingly consent to medical procedures."