In this era of COVID-19, things are happening fast and furious. Care that might have been taken to provide meaningful language access to limited-English speakers, may no longer seem feasible.
The unfortunate reality is that ethnic minorities have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. North America is unique in its multiculturalism. One out of five residents speaks a language other than English at home, while eight percent of U.S. adults are considered limited-English proficient. We all interact, and for us to move forward, all communities must be healthy and safe – not just those that speak English.
To this end, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights Action (OCR) has issue a bulletin about ensuring the healthcare rights of people with limited English proficiency during COVID-19. OCR enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibit entities receiving HHS-provided federal assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color, and national origin.
The bulletin affirms that even amid the pandemic, healthcare providers must continue to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful language access to individuals who speak limited English. “This longstanding obligation is not waived during a national emergency,” the bulletin states. “Reasonable steps may include written translations of documents, (as well as) oral language assistance from a qualified interpreter, either in person or using remote communication technology (such as phone or video).”
“Because we are a diverse country, removing language barriers in health care delivery is crucial to addressing this public health emergency,” OCR Director Roger Severino said. “We are committed to working with the medical community to make sure people of every national origin have meaningful access to health care without discrimination and consistent with the law.”
Ensuring Meaningful Access
To ensure meaningful access for limited-English speakers, healthcare providers can, among other things:
- Contract with entities like LanguageLine that are qualified to provide language access in multiple formats, including qualified medical interpretation via phone, video, and telehealth platforms.
- Disseminate COVID-19 information and messaging about testing and treatment in non-English languages prevalent in the affected area.
- Post COVID-19 documents in multiple languages in multiple locations, both physical and online.
- Provide notices that language services are available online, in advertisements, and at points of service.
- Designate a person on every shift to be responsible for ensuring and coordinating the delivery of language access.
- Create and disseminate widely to staff a current list of in-person and remote translation and interpreter services, as well as how to access them.
Use of Remote Interpreting
OCR notes that health providers may encounter circumstances where using an in-person interpreter would pose a health risk for that interpreter, as well as for potentially spreading the disease.
The agency says that in this instance, providers should “utilize the flexibility allowed under the law, such as the use of remote interpretation through audio or video technologies, to ensure that people of all national origins are served, including persons with limited-English proficiency.”
Each day we receive questions from healthcare organizations about how to best ensure effective communication during this unprecedented time.
We are eager to address this theme in our upcoming webinar, “Language Access & COVID-19: Best Practices and How to Move Forward.”The webinar will take place at 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET on June 2. It will feature Evelyn Ramos, Corporate Director, Volunteer and Interpreter Services at NewYork-Presbyterian, along with language-access experts Lulu Sanchez, CMI, and Jorge Ungo of LanguageLine.
We invite you to register for the event here.
LanguageLine Can Help
LanguageLine imagines a world without language or cultural barriers. We created the language access industry in 1982 and handled more than 40 million interactions last year.
We are able to get you connected to our team of 11,000 professional, on-demand interpreters via audio or video in 30 seconds or less. We can also translate and localize your written content. We do this in more than 240 languages, and we do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
It all starts with a conversation. Please contact us via our website or by calling 800-752-6096. We would like to learn more about the language or cultural challenge you may be facing.