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Post date: September 22 2003

Attorney General's Settlement With Two Utica Hospitals Guarantees Enhanced Language Assistance Services For Patients With Limited English Proficiency

New York State Attorney General Spitzer today announced that he has reached agreements with St. Elizabeth Medical Center and Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare in Utica in which each hospital has agreed to provide enhanced interpretation and translation services to patients with limited English proficiency ("LEP patients").

For the last three decades Utica has served as a gateway to the United States for thousands of refugees, primarily from Bosnia, the former Soviet Union and Vietnam. In addition, about 18% of the city's population is Spanish-speaking. According to the 2000 Census, about 12% of Utica's population was foreign-born, and close to 11% of the city's population spoke English "not well". Both hospitals have acknowledged that they serve significant numbers of patients who do not speak English well enough to communicate effectively with their health care providers, and that these patients most often speak Spanish or Bosnian and, to a lesser extent, Russian and Vietnamese.

"Working with the hospitals, we crafted innovative agreements that will greatly assist Utica residents in communicating their health care needs, and will use each hospital's existing resources to their greatest effect," Spitzer said. "We hope these agreements serve as models for other health care providers trying to meet the challenges of serving linguistically diverse communities."

Spitzer began investigating St. Elizabeth's and Faxton's practices in the spring of 2002 after receiving complaints about the lack of language assistance services for patients at the two hospitals. The investigation found that while each hospital had recognized the need to expand language assistance, available resources were often inadequate or under-utilized because of insufficient planning, coordination, monitoring, and evaluation. As a result, hospital staff relied on patients to bring in their own interpreters. On many occasions patients were sent home because no one was available to provide language assistance.

Spitzer commended both hospitals for recognizing the importance of the LEP issue and working with his office to correct deficiencies at the hospitals.

Highlights of the two agreements include:

  • Appointing a Coordinator. A Language Assistance Coordinator will be designated for implementing, coordinating, and monitoring the hospital's language assistance services for LEP patients.

  • Providing face-to-face interpretation services. All staff persons serving as interpreters will have their foreign language skills assessed and will receive training in medical interpretation. Telephonic interpretation services will be available at all times to enhance program.

  • Patient choice of interpreter. LEP patients will be permitted to choose to use adult family members or friends if they prefer as long as the chosen individuals are able to interpret the patients' needs accurately and completely. A patient's decision to use an interpreter not provided by the hospital will be documented in the patient's medical record.

  • Signs translation. Key hospital signs and documents will be translated into foreign languages most frequently encountered by the hospital.

  • Quality and Compliance. Documentation, data collection, monitoring, and a complaint system will be maintained to assure quality and compliance with the language assistance program and to track the prevalence of various foreign languages in the patient population.

The investigation was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Brian J. Kreiswirth and Elisabeth C. Yap, under the direction of Bureau Chief Dennis D. Parker of the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau.