This post, about our successful efforts to secure and enforce rights to language services for a client at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, originally appeared on the blog of the Committee of Interns & Residents, which is fighting for the right to unionize at St. Barnabas Hospital.
The NY State Department of Health recently issued a citation to St. Barnabas finding that the hospital has violated state laws mandating that non-English speaking patients receive translation services so that they can understand diagnoses, treatment plans, and other essential healthcare information.
According to the attorney who prepared the complaint, a Spanish-speaking patient admitted to St. Barnabas Hospital filed a complaint with the State after spending more than a week in the hospital without receiving translation services that would allow her to understand her diagnosis and medical documents she was asked to sign. Only after the patient’s attorney intervened did St. Barnabas provide a telephone-based translation service to the patient.
The Department of Health’s investigation finds the following violations of state law:
- St. Barnabas failed to document the patient’s language preference.
- St. Barnabas failed to document whether the patient was provided with a qualified translator.
- After the patient was diagnosed with tuberculosis, St. Barnabas failed to document that the diagnoses and treatment plan were explained to the patient in a language she could understand.
In diverse communities like the Bronx, where it is estimated that more than 50% of families speak a language other than English at home, timely access to effective translation services is essential to delivering quality healthcare.
Research compiled by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality finds that “Language barriers in the health care setting can lead to problems such as delay or denial of services, issues with medication management, and underutilization of preventive services.” Local stories compiled by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest also illustrate the severe consequences of inadequate communication in healthcare settings.
Given these high stakes, let’s hope that this Bronx patient’s complaint has spurred St. Barnabas Hospital to make real improvements in the language services it provides to the communities it serves.