Systematic failures in language assistance services affect quality of patient care
CHICAGO, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- One of Chicago's largest hospital chains is failing to provide language assistance services required by federal law, according to a complaint filed today with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The complaint, which was filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, alleges that Resurrection Health Care (RHC) has systematically failed to provide the most basic forms of language assistance services to ensure equal access to health care for all patients regardless of English language proficiency.
Congressman Luis Gutierrez joined AFSCME in calling on the eight-hospital Resurrection chain to reform its policies which effectively discriminate against those who do not speak fluent English.
"When people in our communities need health care, they should be assured that the quality of the care they receive won't be compromised because of a language barrier. That's what federal law provides --- and that's the right thing to do," Rep. Gutierrez said.
"I have been very disappointed to learn that Resurrection Health Care hospitals, which serve communities with large numbers of Latinos and other ethnic groups, do not appear to be making a sincere effort to provide the necessary language assistance services," he added.
The complaint alleges that Resurrection's failure to provide these services is a violation of Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits recipients of federal funding, such as Medicare and Medicaid, from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The failure to provide adequate language assistance services to patients in need in the health care setting has been recognized by the courts as a violation of Title VI's ban on national origin discrimination.
Language assistance services include providing trained medical translators and interpreters and providing consent forms and discharge instructions in commonly encountered languages.
Resurrection hospitals treat more Latino patients than any other Chicago health care network, yet employees report only two of RHC's eight hospitals employ professional interpreters. Among other area hospitals that treat high numbers of Latino inpatients, the average percent of revenue spent on language assistance services is five times higher than that at Resurrection.
Leticia Gonzales sought care for severe stomach pain at RHC's St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital. Because of the language barrier the medical personnel were never able to effectively diagnose her condition. After months of suffering she was finally brought to another area hospital where she was diagnosed with a severe gallbladder infection that had spread to the kidneys. She underwent an operation and spent 15 days hospitalized in critical condition.
"Resurrection Health Care has more resources than other community hospitals but is doing far less in assuring that patients can get appropriate treatment no matter what language barriers may exist," said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director, Henry Bayer.
Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church, also joined in calling for Resurrection to reform its policy.
"We should demand more of any hospital, but we should expect more from a hospital system with a spiritual mission," Father Dowling said. "Beyond the obligation Resurrection has to the public health, they have an obligation to be a beacon of quality health care, administered clearly and understandably, no matter what language you speak."
Idida Perez, Executive Director of West Town Leadership United, summarized the door-to-door survey on barriers to health care access that was conducted over the summer.
"We asked residents who were not fluent in English if they had experienced any difficulties understanding doctors and nurses or reading hospital forms. Over 30% responded that they did experience problems," she said. "This is not acceptable. Patients have a right to professional translation services and failure to provide those services can have a tremendous impact on their health."
Patients who have experienced difficulties receiving language assistance, such as interpretation services or translations of vital health care forms, can call 1-800-899-9728 for more information about their rights and to support the campaign for quality language assistance services at Resurrection Health Care hospitals.
Resurrection employees have been working to form a union with AFSCME Council 31. For more information, visit http://www.reformresurrection.org.
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