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Post date: October 7 2015

A.G. Schneiderman Announces Agreements To Improve Hospital Services For Those With Limited Language Ability; Limited Incomes

Agreements Will Bolster Language Assistance And Financial Aid Services To Hospitals In Auburn And Binghamton 

Schneiderman: Access To Quality Healthcare In New York State Cannot Be Diminished Or Denied Due To Language Ability Or Income 

NEW YORK – In a significant step toward promoting equal access to healthcare, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements with Auburn Community Hospital in Auburn and Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital, Inc. in Binghamton that will bolster their language assistance and financial aid services. Both hospitals serve increasingly diverse communities and are committed to ensuring their services keep pace with the needs of its population.  Implementing and revisiting language assistance and financial aid policies will work to ensure the hospital’s services remain available to individuals regardless whether they have limited English proficiency (LEP) or ability to pay.

“Overcoming language barriers in the medical setting is key to protecting the health and well-being of all New Yorkers," Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The agreements with Auburn Community Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial in Binghamton exemplify steps that healthcare providers can take to provide all people, regardless of income or LEP-status, a meaningful opportunity to obtain quality medical care.”

In cooperation with the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau and Healthcare Bureau, Auburn Community Hospital and our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital have agreed to improve their existing language assistance and financial aid policies and services. Among other things, the hospitals will:

  • Promote effective communication between clinical personnel providing medical services and patients and their families;
  • Provide annual trainings to clinical and non-clinical personnel on communicating with LEP persons;
  • Translate vital documents and forms, including Patients’ Bill of Rights, key forms, discharge materials, and financial aid documents;
  • Post signs and provide informational materials about the availability of free language assistance in commonly used public areas;
  • Ensure that employees who have direct contact with the public know how to access the hospitals’ language assistance services to effectively communicate with LEP persons in-person and over the phone;
  • Eliminate the use of “asset tests” in determining eligibility for financial assistance, such that information about savings, stocks, bonds, property and other assets will not be considered for eligibility;
  • Ensure that financial aid applications and summaries are distributed to all patients without insurance prior to discharge, even if not requested; and
  • Provide reports to the Attorney General's Office regarding the implementation of its language access program.

“The Workers' Center of CNY is an organization that represents the interest of low-wage immigrant workers and we commend the steps taken by the Attorney General in response to several cases related to the lack of language access in hospitals in Central New York,” said Rebecca Fuentes of Workers Justice Center of Central New York.

According to Census data, approximately two and a half million New Yorkers do not speak English as their primary language and have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English.  Binghamton has a population of 44,562 residents who are over five years of age, of whom 13.7% speak a language other than English at home and 5.4% do not speak English “very well”.  Additionally, 2013 Census data indicates that 10.1% of Binghamton’s 46,014 residents lacked health insurance and that, between 2012 and 2013, 33.3% of Binghamton residents lived below the federal poverty level. With respect to Auburn, 2013 Census data indicates that 6.9% of its 25,792 residents speak a language other than English at home and 2.8 % speak English less than “very well.” Auburn residents who had no health insurance constituted 11.3% of the city’s population, while 20.0% were living below the federal poverty level.  The hospitals’ strengthened language access program will help ensure that individuals in their respective communities have meaningful access to vital medical services regardless of language ability or income. 

“Our work with New York's immigrant communities shows that more must be done to ensure that immigrants and LEP individuals are able to access the health care they need. Reports from our members reveal that challenges are particularly grievous for people in Upstate and Western New York. Better language access in medical facilities and hospitals can vastly improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of these critical institutions. We stand with the Attorney General’s Office in the fight to overcome language barriers while ensuring that all New Yorkers enjoy equal access to important services,” said Steven Choi, Esq., Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau has worked to promote language access in a range of areas across New York State, vastly improving access to important services provides by police departments, sheriffs’ offices, and public schools. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits national origin discrimination and requires recipients of federal financial assistance, such as hospitals and medical centers, to provide LEP individuals meaningful access to their services and activities through no-cost language assistance services.  The Attorney General’s Health Care Bureau has worked to strengthen hospital financial aid programs, and enforce the New York Hospital Financial Assistance Law, which requires hospitals to provide financial aid to eligible patients.

"When someone who is injured, like me, goes to the hospital, it is very important to ask the patient and provide them with an interpreter to speak with the hospital staff directly,” said Lazaro Alvarez, a member of the Workers Center organization. “ In my case, as with many others, I felt in pain and helpless to not be able to communicate directly with the hospital staff.”

“The Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc. (LASMNY) recognizes that language barriers pose significant obstacles in obtaining health care services for many of our clients, including the ability to adequately communicate ones need for financial assistance“ said Paul Lupia, Executive Director of LASMNY. “We commend Attorney General Schneiderman for securing agreements with two of our local hospitals to ensure access to vital medical services for residents who are Limited English Proficient throughout this region.”

These matters were handled by Assistant Attorney General Anjana Samant and Carol Hunt of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights and Health Care Bureaus, respectively. Kristen Clarke is the Civil Rights Bureau Chief and Lisa Landau is the Health Care Bureau Chief. Alvin Bragg is Executive Deputy Attorney General for the Social Justice Division.