steps to provide meaningful access to Limited English Proficiency
To avoid discrimination based on national origin, Title VI and its imple- menting regulations require recipients of federal financial assistance to take rea- sonable steps to provide meaningful access to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) persons. Therefore, under the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when people with LEP seek health care in health care settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, day care centers, and mental health centers, services cannot be denied to them. It is said that “language barriers have a del- eterious effect on health care and patients are less likely to have a usual source of health care, and have an increased risk if non-adherence to medication regi- mens” (Flores, 2006, p. 230).
The United States is home to millions of people from many national ori- gins. Currently, because there are growing concerns about racial, ethnic, and lan- guage disparities in health and health care and the need for health care systems to accommodate increasingly diverse patient populations, language access ser- vices (LAS) have become more and more a matter of national importance. This need has become increasingly pertinent given the continued growth in language diversity within the United States. English is the predominant language of the United States and according to the 2010 American Community Survey estimates it is spoken at home by 79.4% of its residents over 5 years of age (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012a). In the total of over 13 million Spanish-speaking households,
12 ■ Chapter 1
there are 3.2 million households where no one over 14 speaks English only or speaks English “very well.” There are over 5.2 million Indo-European and over 3.7 million Asian and Pacific Island households where no one over 14 speaks English only or speaks English “very well.” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012b). The most common, non-English languages spoken by people over 5 at home are Spanish, Chinese, French, German, and Tagalog. Vietnamese, Italian, Korean, and Russian and Polish are next among the top 10 languages (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012c).
People who are limited in their ability to speak, read, write, and under- stand the English language experience countless language barriers that can result in limiting their access to critical public health, hospital, and other medical and social services to which they are legally entitled. Many health and social service programs provide information about their services in English only. When LEP persons seek health care at hospitals or medical clinics, they are frequently faced with receptionists, nurses, and doctors who speak English only. The language barrier faced by LEP persons in need of medical care and/or social services se- verely limits the ability to gain access to these services and to participate in these programs. In addition, the language barrier often results in the denial of medi- cal care or social services, delays in the receipt of such care and services, or the provision of care and services based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Services denied, delayed, or provided under such circumstances could have seri- ous consequences for an LEP patient as well as for a provider of medical care. Some states, for example California, Massachusetts, and New York, recognize the seriousness of the problem and require providers to offer language assis- tance to patients in health care settings. Language access services are especially relevant to racial and ethnic disparities in health care. A report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on racial and ethnic disparities in health care documented through substantial research that minorities, as compared to their White Ameri- can counterparts, receive lower quality of care across a wide range of medical conditions, resulting in poorer health outcomes and lower health statuses. The research conducted by the IOM showed that language barriers can cause poor, abbreviated, or erroneous communication and poor decision making on the part of both providers and patients (Smedley, B. D., A. Y. Stith, and A. R. Nelson, 2004, p. 3). Each patient must be carefully assessed to determine his or her language needs, and information must be delivered in a manner that is under- standable by the patient. When a patient does not understand English, compe- tent interpreters or language resources must be available.