LANGUAGE BARRIERS: HHS Requires Providers to Offer Translators
In a move that affects Los Angeles "more than any other city in the country," HHS officials issued a directive last week requiring social service and health care providers who receive federal funds to offer free interpreters to clients with limited English language skills, the Los Angeles Times reports. The directive also requires providers to post notices in lobbies and waiting rooms informing patients of such services. In addition, agencies' intake workers are to identify patients' primary languages and make note of them in files. HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said, "This guidance enhances our ability to reach our national goal of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health." Forty percent of Los Angeles' population is foreign-born and more than 100 languages are spoken, making it a "challenge" to prepare for "every contingency." Doreena Wong, a staff attorney with the Los Angeles-based National Health Law Program, said that existing laws already require federally funded health care and social service agencies to provide "competent language assistance," but many care providers do not comply or "handle the issue inappropriately." Under the directive, care providers that suggest patients use friends, minor children or family friends as interpreters risk losing federal funds. Los Angeles immigrant advocates "hailed" the directive, saying it is an important "first step" in providing "meaningful access" to limited-English speakers (Kang, 8/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.