Minorities have long experienced disparities with regard to health and medical care. This has been especially true with COVID-19, with ethnic and racial minorities three times more likely to contract the virus and twice as likely to die from it.

When it comes to the coronavirus, our ability to recover will only be as strong as our most vulnerable population. More than 350 languages are spoken across the U.S. In fact, one in five of us speaks a language other than English at home, while 26.5 million are officially considered limited-English proficient, meaning they are entitled to language assistance when seeking health care.

When this linguistic diversity is seen through the lens of COVID-19, it is obvious that in order to heal as a nation, we must place a renewed focus on language access. This includes the translation of essential communication, as well as the availability of qualified medical interpreters when needed.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has offered ways that organizations can help reduce those disparities while adhering to federal nondiscrimination requirements.

The guidance is meant to ensure that healthcare providers, state and local agencies, and other recipients of federal financial assistance understand they must comply with federal civil rights laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin during COVID-19. This guidance specifically focuses on recipients' compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Six Ways Providers Can Limit Minority Health Disparities

  1. Test sites: Community-based testing sites should be accessible to racial and ethnic minority populations. This does not simply refer to the physical location of the site. For example, once the individual arrives to be tested, translated materials and language interpretation should be available. Telehealth interpreting and mobile interpreting can be of use here, as well as translation services that can convert text in more than 240 languages.
  2. Policies and procedures: Providers should ensure that all policies and procedures with respect to COVID-19-related services (including testing) do not exclude or otherwise deny people on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  3. Wait times: Providers should ensure that individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups are not subjected to excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions, or denied access to intensive care units, as compared to non-minorities in similar situations. This is an area where on-demand interpreting can be of great assistance, with a professional interpreter available within seconds at the touch of a button in more than 240 languages.
  4. Transportation: If it is within the scope of the provider’s services, ambulance, non-emergency transportation, and home health services should go to all neighborhoods without regard to race, color, or origin. Again, mobile interpreting can provide language assistance while a patient is en route or receiving care at home.
  5. Signage: Providers should make available to all patients, beneficiaries, and customers information on how the provider does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, as well as the availability of interpreters and translated materials if needed. Translation services can help here, as well.
  6. Advisory: Providers should select individuals to participate as members of a planning or advisory body to address the needs of racial and ethnic minority communities.

“HHS is committed to helping populations hardest hit by COVID-19,” OCR Director Roger Severino said. “This guidance reminds providers that unlawful discrimination in healthcare will not be tolerated, especially during a pandemic.”

LanguageLine Can Help          

Our clients are doing heroic work against the backdrop of extreme challenges. Among these challenges is providing critical information to a public that needs it, regardless of language, culture, or ability.

LanguageLine is committed to being a steadfast partner during these difficult times, as we have been during other trying periods over the course of our 40-year history. “Business as unusual” is business as usual for us.

Five years ago, our interpreters shifted to a work-at-home model as part of a larger digital transformation. This model has allowed us to remain fully operational. LanguageLine’s ability to deliver for our clients has been unaffected by the COVID-19 crisis – in fact, our performance metrics have improved across the board since March 1, 2020.

With 24-hour support, we are able to provide you with a medically qualified interpreter in seconds, while also urgently delivering the written translations you require.

LanguageLine stands ready to assist you with the following needs:

It all begins with a conversation. Please contact us so that we can learn more about the language and cultural challenges you may be facing.

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