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How much is language access worth to you?March 16, 2017
For healthcare providers, supplying Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients with quality language assistance isn’t optional – it’s required by the law. And since new language access requirements stipulated by Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act went into effect this past summer, more and more language access lawsuits have begun to make their way through the U.S. court system.
As previous language access discrimination cases have shown, those types of lawsuits can prove to be extremely costly for healthcare providers, in particular.
Far More Expensive than Hiring an Interpreter
Consider the 2007 case of a seriously ill two-month-old girl in a Western state.
Her parents checked her into a hospital to undergo a surgical procedure to remove her left kidney. As explained in court documents, the baby’s parents (who spoke and understood little to no English) were under the impression that their daughter’s surgery would be fairly straightforward.
However, the surgery wasn’t as simple as they were led to believe. Their baby’s condition began to worsen, and her kidneys completely failed as a result of the operation. After surgery, she was placed on dialysis and on a kidney transplant waiting list, as court documents explained. The doctor understood that these were potential risks of the operation, but the baby’s parents alleged they were unaware of those risks.
That’s because their doctor failed to provide a qualified Spanish interpreter during meetings with the parents. The doctor used the baby’s aunt to interpret for the parents, and she was unable to communicate either the significant risks of the operation or alternative treatment options, including monitoring the baby girl’s kidneys for months, according to court documents.
The aunt was not qualified as an interpreter, but she was once again used at the hospital on the day of the surgery for two informed consent conversations and pre-surgery consultation.
Aside from the tragic health consequences of the medical system’s failure to provide an interpreter for the girl and her family, their actions ended up having serious legal consequences.
The baby’s parents sued, claiming that the health system failed to provide consent forms in Spanish or offer trained interpreters. The parents’ claims included malpractice, negligence, lack of informed consent, and, importantly, Federal National Origin Discrimination — a violation of their federally protected civil right to qualified, effective language assistance.
Rather than face the uncertain risks of a jury trial, the surgeon and hospital agreed to settle with the parents out of court for several million dollars .
If you’re unsure whether your organization is in compliance with federal language access law, consider registering for our upcoming workshop, “Language Access Plans 101: Drafting Legally Compliant Plans.” Bruce Adelson, a former DOJ Senior Trial Attorney and nationally recognized federal compliance expert, will guide you through the requirements of federal language access law and help you develop a Language Access Plan template tailor-made for your organization.